I am a lifelong "pet person." I love my pets like they are my kids…and I would do anything in my power to keep them healthy, safe and free from fear. However, this can be a difficult feat to pull off in the presence of vet visits, thunderstorms and other anxiety-producing events. Over the years, I've learned that the only really effective explanations come in the form of "show and tell” soothers. For instance, if I pop in the "Music Birds Love" CD and hang a small mirror in his cage before I head out for my daily walk, my parrot chills out right away. When our family's dachshund shakes and shivers at flashes of lightning and booming thunder, we slip on his Thundershirt and cuddle with him until he calms down. These pet soothers come highly recommended as "show and tell" soothers that really work.
Medical costs of pet anxiety
Pet anxiety is just one of the many costs of owning a pet. According to the ASPCA, pet-care costs in the first year alone can range from $270 (small bird) to $1,843 (large dog). Here, anything you can do to cut costs from year to year can be key for long-term budgeting.
- Avg annual cost of vet visits: $547 / year (AP-Petside.com poll)
- Avg cost per vet visit: $100-$200 (depending on species)
- Avg cost per surgical vet visit: $300-$500 (ditto above)
Here, if the choice is between purchasing a $39.99 Thundershirt (the priciest soother on our list here) and a $150 vet visit, it may be worth it to try the former before resorting to the latter to deal with anxiety. Plus, my pets won't suffer if they are not feeling anxious—the value of that is priceless.
Household costs of pet anxiety
Google "pet destroys furniture" and you will soon find yourself wading through tales of widespread destruction. Mini blinds, carpeting, furniture (legs and cushions), drywall, paint, tile, houseplants and (of course) delicate antiques—even the most precious items are far from immune. Unfortunately, many of these unhappy "accidents" are caused by pet anxiety.
- Avg cost of furniture repair: $237 (HomeAdvisor.com)
- Avg cost of furniture replacement: $400 – $3,000 (ditto above)
- Avg cost of carpet repair: $237-327 (HomeAdvisor.com)
- Avg cost of carpet replacement: $350-$2,000+ (eHow.com)
Here again, after eyeballing these potential costs of unaddressed pet anxiety, taking the time for a vigorous pre-4th of July fireworks walk around the block or investing in a Thundershirt suddenly doesn't seem so bad!
7 Awesome pet soothers
Each of these pet soothers is inexpensive—some are even free! But most of all, offering your pet these soothers also offers your love and attention—two known remedies for anxiety and fear.
1. Pet Acoustics
Recent research suggests pets, like people, can find calm and peace by listening to music. A few enterprising souls have taken this to the bank—literally—and are now producing music just for pets. My favorite of these is Pet Acoustics because they have species-specific options for many pets and a range of options for any budget.
- Website: http://www.petacoustics.com
- Species: Dogs, cats, birds, horses
- Formats: Mini-speakers, CDs, iPod playlists
- Costs: Mini-speakers are most expensive at $49 each; CDs are $13.99 each; iPod mixes are $1.99 via the iOS app.
- App: for iOS ($1.99) – features music for dogs, cats and horses only
Our family's standard dachshund wears his Thundershirt religiously during storms and it really helps. Normally a "type C" personality who sleeps all day, Morgan comes unglued when he hears thunder. Pop the Thundershirt on him, however, and he calms right down. Research shows 80% of canines have a similar positive response.
- Website: http://www.thundershirt.com
- Dog sizes: from XXS to XXL
- Cat sizes: S, M, L (Right now you can get free personalized embroidery—a $10 value—when you order a cat Thundershirt.)
- Costs: $39.95 (Pricing is consistent with Amazon and Petsmart; shipping is free if you order now.)
While it’s always best to consult your vet first, melatonin is now widely recognized as an aid to soothing anxious pets. This OTC remedy supplements the natural melatonin a pet's brain produces, creating sensations of calm without drowsiness. Melatonin can be especially effective for puppies, whose keen hearing can cause high levels of distress adult dogs can better tolerate.
- Learn more about melatonin & dosages for pets: http://www.vetinfo.com/melatonin-supplements-for-dogs.html#b
- Options: Capsule, sublingual (under the tongue), time release pills
- Costs: Target, Walgreens and Drugstore.com all offer 100 pills for $5.99-$6.99.
4. Tire your pet out
Cesar Milan, the world-famous "dog whisperer," recommends tiring your pet out in advance of "planned" sources of anxiety, such as fireworks, your departure on a trip, a vet appointment, etc. A long run or walk, vigorous playtime in the home, a rousing game of "catch" in the backyard—all are great ways to exhaust your pet so they will be less inclined to expend even more energy on panic later.
- Website: http://www.cesarsway.com
- Costs: Free!
5. Moderate your own emotions
My parrot always knows when I’m anxious—in fact, sometimes he knows before I do. He will start shrieking, and I have to rule out option after option to figure out he is responding to me, the being he is most closely bonded with in this world.
- What to do: When you can deliberately remain calm and project soothing, reassuring energy and thoughts while in your pet's presence, they will be less likely to overreact on your behalf (this goes for nonverbal and verbal communication).
- Costs: Free!
6. Desensitization therapy
Another newer option many vets are now recommending is called desensitization therapy. This treats your pet's anxiety somewhat as if it were a phobia—and asks you, as owner, to help your pet overcome his or her fear.
- What to do: Identify the source of repetitive anxiety (such as thunder). Record the sound of thunder and play it at a low volume in a controlled atmosphere. Gradually increase the sound until your pet can hear it without displaying high anxiety.
- Read more: Experts suggest consulting your vet before trying this technique!
- Costs: Free!
7. Homeopathic helps
In addition to melatonin (see #3), other homeopathic helps are available to help with pet anxiety. Here are two of the most popular newer options. It’s always a good idea to talk to your pet's vet before offering either of these options for the first time.
- Comfort Zone: http://www.petcomfortzone.com; get $5 off your order; for dogs and cats; pricing varies depending on if you get the diffuser ($25.99 on Amazon) or spray ($16.99 at Petco).
- Calming Collar: https://www.calmingcollars.com; for dogs and cats; three collar types sized XS – XL (calm me down, good to go, too cool); pricing is $32 per collar + shipping with a money-back guarantee (95% of pets show improvement). There are also other brands of calming collars you can get for less (for instance, Sentry's brand on 1800PetMeds.com is $18.19 + shipping)—if unsure, ask your vet for a brand recommendation.