Pet phobias: how to help your cat or dog overcome their fears
Phobias are extremely common in humans – but our pets can also suffer from seemingly irrational fears.
Many of the things that scare both humans and animals are a result of responses built up over millions of years of evolution. For example, we are scared of loud noises and heights because they can cause us harm, meaning our deeply ingrained ‘fight or flight’ instincts kick in.
However, it is possible to overcome or at least manage many fears – whether rational or irrational. Petplan takes a look at some common phobias in cats and dogs, and offers some advice on how to help your pet tackle their issues…
How can I help my dog overcome their phobia of car journeys?
There are plenty of dogs that are more than happy to go on car journeys but, unfortunately, for some it’s more of an ordeal than a treat.
There are many reasons why your dog may dislike car journeys – things such as being involved in an accident or only going in the car when off to get a jab at the vet can contribute to the fear.
The best way to help your dog enjoy car journeys is to get them used to being in the car from a young age. Take them out on day trips and get them to associate being in the car with doing something fun and positive.
However, if you have your dog from an older age, then these fears can already be ingrained. In that case, then there are a few things you can do to help. Getting your dog comfortable in a stationary car is a good start and then, when they are happy, start to take them on short journeys, gradually increasing the distance you travel.
Reward them for good behaviour and, if they become distressed, let them out of the car – their well-being is obviously the most important thing.
How can I help my cat be less scared of water?
While many cats – particularly those from hot climates – enjoy cooling down in the water, it can be a huge struggle for many owners to clean their cat using water.
It’s worth remembering that cats spend hours grooming themselves and making themselves clean, so baths should only happen if they become incredibly dirty or sticky but, if you do need to entice your pet into the bath, here are some things to remember.
It’s worth introducing your cat to bath time from an early age so they become used to it. Gradually introduce them to water, wash them with a damp cloth to begin with before introducing more water as time goes on.
You should also be careful when it comes to using gels or shampoos, as many cats are incredibly sensitive to different types of chemicals and that can also contribute to their dislike of the bath.
How can I help my dog overcome their fear of other dogs?
Some phobias can be completely avoided, but if your dog is scared of other dogs then their quality of life can be severely hindered and is a problem that needs addressing.
Much like the previous fears, a dislike of other dogs is most likely to have formed during a dog’s formative years because of some traumatic experience or a lack of interaction with other dogs at a young age.
Unfortunately, fear of other dogs or animals can often manifest itself in the form of aggression, which is why you should take things slowly and carefully when attempting to integrate your pet with other dogs. Always keep your dog on a leash and keep a safe distance from other dogs when encountering them.
If your dog doesn’t become aggressive when scared, then you need to ensure you are relaxed and confident when around other animals. Keep your voice calm and reassuring and always be alert to other dogs so they don’t sneak up and scare your pet.
This is an extremely complicated issue and, when it comes to treatment, there are a number of options to consider. A professional dog trainer or vet will be able to give you some in-depth advice and help you decide what is best for you and your dog.
How can I help my dog be less scared of loud noises?
As previously mentioned, humans and animals are often scared of things for their own good – loud noises are one of these things and are difficult to cure completely.
However, there are things you can do that will ease your dog’s fears during periods where loud noises are unavoidable such as bonfire night.
You should provide a safe and comfy place for your dog to hide during these periods. The place should be cosy and dark and, if possible, have things like the radio or television in close proximity so the noise from there can distract them.
Distraction is another tool you should use. Feed your dog when the loud noises are happening or play with them to keep them engaged and less likely to focus on the loud noises.
As always, these are guidelines and, if your cat or dog is suffering from phobias or fears that are proving hard to combat, then consult with your vet who will be able to give you advice specific to your situation.
Does your pet have any strange or unusual fears? What are your top tips for overcoming phobias? Let us know your story below...