Is your pet showing signs of chronic worry or anxiety? Do you worry that your pet is worried? Are you anxious over your anxious pet? While worry and anxiety are two words that are often used interchangeably, in the animal world there is a difference. Animal communicator Shannon Cutts offers insight on how to know and what to do with a worried or anxious pet.
There is the scientific literature. Quite a lot of it, as a matter of fact. Scientists and researchers study animal anxiety, albeit in a different manner than we pet parents do.
How is it different? Apart from the methods (complicated data modeling, statistics and number crunching), there is the much-prized objectivity that modern science strives for.
Scientists and researchers conduct the bulk of their research using animal models – research animals for whom they feel no particular emotional attachment.
This, of course, is to ensure objective outcomes – accurate data.
As pet parents, we conduct our research into pet worry and anxiety differently. We are very attached to the animal in question.
So attached that sometimes it becomes literally hard to tell whose anxiety or worry is whose. We know our pet is worried. We can tell. All the signs are there. But we don’t know what is wrong. As our worry grows, our pet’s anxiety symptoms worsen in kind. What to do? Where to turn? Who can help?
Can you relate?
Over the last month or so, I have been privileged to facilitate several sessions for a client and her cat. After months of somewhat vague health symptoms, both human and feline came to me in a high state of anxiety. Sorting out whose anxiety was whose was a necessary first step on the road to productive communication and improved quality of life for their interspecies family.
Which brings me to the main focus of this post. Is pet worry the same as pet anxiety?
No. They are not the same. Here is why.
Worry is mental.
Worry is a mental function. The textbook definition of worry points towards mental rumination – chronic troublesome thoughts that induce disruption to sleep, relationships, work, daily life.
But when I tune in to communicate with a pet who is in any way distressed, I do not ever find an overly active mind.
Contrast that with what I find when I tune in with a distressed human.
With some of my animal communication clients who are in a high degree of upset or worry, it can be difficult to even free up sufficient airspace to relay what their animal wants to tell them. The human is so worried and their mind is going so fast with all those worried thoughts they literally cannot stop talking!
It is the same reason why we often put our hands over our eyes when we are anxious, worried or sad. We are trying to turn off the mind, desperate to find quiet and release.
I understand. I am a human animal too, and a highly sensitive one at that. And I am a pet parent myself. When my pets appear at all unwell, my mind gets going on all the possible worst case scenarios and it can be hard to get it to stop.
Non-human animals worry differently than we do. That is, they don’t worry with their minds – mentally ruminate – so much as they worry with their bodies.
Anxiety is sensory.
This is anxiety, not worry.
The textbook definition of anxiety focuses on feeling, not thought.
Anxiety typically expresses as a feeling of impending dread or doom, foreboding or even panic attack symptoms. Here, the whole experience of anxiety is feeling-based rather than thought-based.
For you and me, as human animals, our thoughts and feelings are so intertwined! We feel a sensation in our body and that triggers a thought and that thought is so scary it triggers another sensation and so forth and so on.
Anxious pets have physical symptoms.
For our pets, the pathway to express internal anxiety largely bypasses mental function. It is like an express train rather than our own commuter train. It goes straight from the fight-or-flight response, with its corresponding rush of stress hormone (cortisol), right to and out through the pet’s body. This often induces a physical response, such as howling or skin biting or chewing up the couch cushion or peeing on the rug.
So with pet anxiety, you will frequently see physical symptoms – behavioral changes, skin irritation or infection, physical health issues, nervous tics, acting out, vocalizations, hiding, chewing or peeing or biting or pawing or panting. And it will be tempting to assume that a purely physical symptom has a purely physical underlying cause.
I realize this may seem like semantics to some. But it is so important for pet parents to understand! Because sometimes – more often than most of us suspect – those physical health symptoms we are seeing in our pet may have an emotional (anxiety) as well as a physical component!
Animal communication can help you put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Here is where animal communication can really come in handy!
If we don’t grasp the full picture of what may be causing our pet distress, we won’t address all of the underlying causes to fully resolve their pet anxiety.
In this case, the symptoms are likely to return again and again and again, wearing us down both emotionally and financially, and wreaking havoc on our pet’s overall health as well as our own.
You might remember the story I shared a few blog posts back about my canine client who had been rescued and relinquished multiple times throughout his life. His new person came to me because she was understandably distressed about her new pup’s multiple behavioral problems.
When I tuned in, I discovered a very anxious dog. This dog had been relinquished so many times the experiences had carved a deep groove into his nervous system, setting him up to physically brace for more of the same.
It happens to all of us, regardless of species. A single traumatic experience can forge a groove, and any subsequent similar experiences will reinforce that groove.
What is the antidote?
There isn’t just one. But it all starts with conversation. This is why I often say animal communication is the most under-utilized tool in the modern pet parent’s toolkit. Animal communication is a bridge that translates what is going on in your pet’s sensory experience into words that your worried human mind can understand and make use of.
Is your pet worried or anxious? Is pet anxiety keeping you both awake at night and chronically worried during the day? I can help.