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Mental Health in Pets: Calming Fear Aggression in Dogs & Cats

Pet Care Tips 4 min read
Photo of a dog with the ears held back and showing their teeth, typical signs of fear aggression in dogs.

If you’ve heard of the term fear aggression in dogs and cats, you probably know the importance of mental wellness in your pet’s life. Behavioral concerns in your little one can make coexistence harder, but it can also lead to physical or emotional harm to your beloved pup or kitty.

Fear is the most common trigger of aggression in dogs and cats.

It’s important to remember that pets that display aggression are not mean or evil. Seeing as our little ones can’t speak to us, they use body language to alert us when something is wrong. Aggression is a common form of communication in animals. It’s their way of expressing their fear, anxiety, or nervousness and protecting themselves the only way they know how.

Aggressive behavior in dogs and cats is typically defensive in nature. Pets usually display this behavior to increase the distance between themselves and the perceived threat or to communicate a clear message of “stay away.” And as their parent and tutor, it is our responsibility to listen and help!

Typical Causes of Aggressive Behavior in Pets

Aggression in dogs and cats can be a sign of several mental concerns, but it can also be physically related, including pain and disease as root causes. Please take your little one to the vet to rule out any severe underlying conditions that might be causing these changes in your little one’s behavior.

However, fear is the most common trigger of aggression in dogs and cats. This behavior can occur when a pet feels threatened, cornered, or trapped. Anxiety-related aggression can also occur when an animal is triggered by a stimulus that reminds them of previous experiences where this behavior might have been necessary to avoid or prevent unpleasant outcomes.

Triggers may include developmental issues such as abuse, trauma, improper socialization, environmental factors such as confinement, large groups, or even genetic predisposition in certain breeds.

Understanding Fear Aggression in Dogs & Cats

Why is fear aggression in dogs and cats a concern to your little one’s mental and physical health? When an individual experiences fear, it triggers the nervous system and sends a cascade of information to prepare the body for fight-or-flight.

The amygdala is the first of multiple brain centers that sense fear. It then signals to the cerebral cortex, which becomes impaired and is responsible for reasoning and judgment. This is why your pet may begin to act out of character to items, people, and even you.

This cascade of stimuli then reaches the hypothalamus, which communicates to the pituitary gland to secrete adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) into the blood, which will trigger the adrenal gland to secrete additional stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones increase blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. Muscles can become tighter, and metabolic activity can cause glucose spikes.

Constant exposure and ongoing stress on the body can have many detrimental effects on your furkiddo’s body, from heart disease to stroke, diabetes, anxiety, or even depression. Natural supplements can help protect your little one’s body from stress-induced issues.

Addressing the Physical Impacts of Stress on Your Pet

Photo of a cat with arched back and hairs raised to illustrate a blog about fear aggression in dogs and cats.

As chronic stress does a number on our little one’s endocrine system, and their liver is responsible for metabolizing these hormones, we need to ensure it is functioning optimally. That’s why NHV Milk Thistle can also be really beneficial if your furkiddo has been dealing with anxiety-related aggression. Milk Thistle has strong detoxification properties, supports liver regeneration, and helps prevent hormonal imbalance.

Stress can also induce excessive inflammation and strain on the immune system. The antioxidant benefits of NHV Turmeric are great as these phytonutrients protect your body from free radicals that are known to damage cells. Turmeric is also highly supportive of the heart and circulatory system, ensuring its regular functioning and operation.

Lastly, fear aggression in dogs and cats can lead to an unregulated nervous system, which can strongly affect the immune system and its functioning as it is always hyperactive and ready to take on the “threat.” NHV Natures Immuno‘s mushroom formula can support an unregulated immune system while helping combat stress with its adaptogenic properties. Adaptogens help our bodies manage stress and restore balance after a stressful situation.

Preventing Fear Aggression in Dogs & Cats

Fear aggression is a complex behavioral trait that requires careful handling. It is crucial to avoid scolding or punishing a fearful dog, as this may reinforce their feelings and increase the likelihood of aggressive behavior. Instead, proper exercise, diet, natural supplements, and training are good starting points in helping alleviate many fear-related problems.

Avoid scolding or punishing a fearful dog, as this may increase the likelihood of aggressive behavior.

When it comes to training, various behavioral methods could be attempted, like desensitization and regular obedience. Desensitization employs threats and praise in conjunction with the presence of the feared object to reduce fear and increase familiarity. Regular obedience training may mitigate fear and anxiety, reduce the likelihood of aggressive responses, and serve as a counter-conditioning treatment to distract the dog from negative stimuli.

Natural calming supplements like NHV Lesstress for dogs and NHV Matricalm for cats can help make your little one’s training experience less stressful. These formulations were designed to reduce hyperactivity and excitability and can even help your little one’s body to better cope with their stress triggers. Both Lesstress and Matricalm can also support the immune and nervous systems and help the body adapt when experiencing fear aggression without strong sedative effects.

Chronic long-term stress can lead to further issues if unaddressed. The severity and underlying trigger will help determine the appropriate treatment alongside your vet. Talk to one of our pet experts to build the best regime for your furmily to handle fear aggression in dogs and cats.

Vet Technician Mel

Vet Technician Mel

Mel completed her Bachelor’s degree in Biological Science, a minor in Neurological Psychology, from the University of Alberta in 2012 and a Veterinary Technician program at NAIT in 2015. Mel has self-studied herbalism and naturopathic medicine since she was 15 years old and dealing with her own diagnosis, which only enriched her curiosity more. When not working as part of the NHV Pet Expert team, Mel loves cooking and being with her family, including her rescue kitty, Ursa.

Published: October 11, 2023

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