You likely remember the love you felt when your pet was first placed in your arms. The love you have for your pet is overwhelming and all-encompassing and likely encourages you to do whatever it takes to continually strengthen your bond.
Similar to human relationships, there are things you can do to help your pet trust you. Building a strong bond with your pet is beneficial for many reasons, but is especially helpful if your pet struggles with anxiety.
That’s why I’m here to help. My name is Dr. Kwane Stewart (also known as “The Street Vet”) — I’ve been a practicing veterinarian for over 25 years and am now a member of Fetch by The Dodo’s Veterinary Advisory Board. If your pet struggles with anxiety, keep reading to learn how you can build their trust in you and grow their confidence.
Dogs and cats commonly struggle with separation anxiety (although it usually affects dogs more than cats). For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic’s initial lockdowns, some pet parents spent more time at home with their pets. Now, as many people have started leaving their houses more or returning to in-person work, veterinarians are seeing a rise in separation anxiety among pets.
Pets can experience fear-related anxiety, too, which is a physiological response to a threat and can be triggered by things like loud and unusual noises (think: thunder) or taking your pet to a new, unfamiliar environment.
Dogs can express anxiety in many ways. Some signs your pet is experiencing anxiety are symptoms of depression (like changes in body language, decreased desire to play or interact, loss of appetite and lethargy or sleeping more), restlessness, panting, chewing, barking, aggression or destroying things. Sometimes, housebroken pets will start going to the bathroom inside the house.
All dogs can experience anxiety under stressful circumstances, but similarly to people, genetics and breed can also play a part in if a pet is susceptible to anxiety. For example, breeds like terriers, schnauzers or sheepdogs commonly have anxiety. However, lack of socialization, experiences with traumatic events and age can also cause anxiety.
Cats express anxiety a little differently than dogs do — they’ll often show changes in body posture, hide, become restless, experience a lack of appetite, increase their vocalization, salivate, pace and display unusual litter box habits.
Building trust with pets requires communication and time. The more time you're able to spend with your dog or cat, the more opportunities you have to build trust and develop a bond. Spending time together will make it easier for you and your pet to read each other's body language and cues, inevitably helping you to gauge if your pet is unhealthy or unwell and needs to go to the vet’s office.
It may take a little more time for cats to trust you, as dogs are naturally trusting animals. Our feline friends are more instinctive, but that doesn't mean they won't trust you with time and patience.
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You can build trust with your dog by remaining kind and fair and avoiding being aggressive and overbearing. If they get into mischief, remain calm and positive — your pet wants you to be happy, so they’ll most likely respond best to positive reinforcement and learn from their mistakes with proper training. Creating a hostile environment will diminish their trust and set their training and general behavior back.
Lastly, consistency is key. Dogs appreciate stable and predictable environments, and they want to know that you're a dependable pet parent. So whether it comes to feeding times, exercise, discipline or affection, it's always good to remain consistent.
Gaining cats' trust is similar to dogs' — but with minor adjustments. Like dogs, it takes time and communication to build a cat's trust, but they usually appreciate their independence more than dogs do.
One way to earn a cat’s trust is to give them a safe space and plenty of hiding places for when they feel frightened (like a closet, under your bed or a high perch). When trying to bond with your cat through play or cuddles, don’t be upset if they run away and put their safe space to use. Give them time to relax and then look for signs that they’re ready for contact — like if their tail is moving in a slow, side-to-side swishing motion. That’s often their way of inviting you to play with them.
Even though cats are generally independent, some also love affection and playtime. You should develop a daily ritual with your cat. Whether it’s scratches under their chin or a play session, routines help build their trust.
The length of time it takes for your pet to trust you varies and largely depends on the amount of time you're putting in to develop a strong bond.
If your pet's anxiety continues and it doesn't seem like they're beginning to trust you, reach out to your veterinarian. They may recommend additional treatment options for pet’s with anxiety, like behavior modification training, desensitization or anti-anxiety medication.
These tips will help you build a trusting relationship with your pet and ultimately make them feel more confident.
The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’s expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo.
Image source: @drkwane Instagram