Pet Improvement: Anxiety and dementia in pets

Dr. Jay Fineman is pictured in front of Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley National Park during part of a 300-mile bike tour. (Courtesy photo)

It’s official, respected veterinarian, Dr. Jay Fineman, has retired after 40 years of practice. His focus now is to travel and support the Newport community he loves so much. Whether its going to Brazil for the Hatfield Marine Science Center’s Project Piaba, or serving on the board of directors at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, he will continue to contribute his expertise.

He first moved to Newport in 1979 and bought Grove Veterinary Clinic. He had just graduated veterinary school in 1977 from the prestigious University of Pennsylvania. His name became an institution around town, and in 2007 he sold Grove to a husband and wife team, Drs. Charles Hurty and Natasha Knight. He later began offering in-home palliative care and euthanasia for pets.

With the Fourth of July right around the corner Dr. Fineman wanted to talk about anxiety in pets. It’s always a problem interpreting what types of pet behavior is a result of this condition. Anxiety can be the basis for bad behavior, such as aggression and destruction. A full 60 percent of pets experience separation anxiety when their owners leave.

Sound is another trigger for anxiety. This becomes particularly escalated around the Fourth of July. It’s important to lock your pets as far away from the noise as possible. Turn on the radio and/or television to help drown it out. Speak to your veterinarian about using a calming agent, such as Benadryl, to get through the fireworks.

The crux of anxiety issues is the lack of proper socialization as puppies. Puppies need to get acclimated to potential triggers, other pets and people, but the window for this is very short — from birth to 16 weeks. The old practice was to keep puppies isolated because of risk for infections, such as parvovirus and distemper. Dr. Fineman says they are finding that more pets are being euthanized for behavioral issues than are dying from these diseases, so socialization must become paramount.

For older pets, he recommends working with a trainer and a veterinarian to determine what can be unlearned, or if medication is indicated. Some dogs have such aggression towards others and are such a danger that it’s not possible to fix the problem and they should be euthanized. The problem is that few people want to admit when it’s unfixable. Shelters are looking much more closely at these behavioral issues instead of rehoming the same pet repeatedly.

Interestingly, cats that suffer from anxiety issues frequently will obsessively groom and self-traumatize themselves. It’s sometimes difficult to determine if it’s food related or behavioral, the latter should never be ruled out.

Chronic anxiety may also lead to dementia in pets, known as Canine Cognitive Disorder. Older pets might become disoriented or inappropriately soil in the house. Other signs are a reduction in activity or change in interactions. It’s important to determine if this is cognitive or a different health issue. Vitamin B6 or B-complex and multiple-vitamins have been shown to be quite helpful with dementia.


Jane Laulis is an avid pet lover. She hosts a pet talk radio show and is involved with pets from research to retail, nutrition to pet food manufacturing. She lives on the coast with her scientist husband, ocean faring dogs, indoor cats, exotic snakes and a charm of hummingbirds. She may be reached at [email protected]


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