Animal Behaviour

Anxiety - fears and phobias

Based on presentation by Nicole Eltringham -Young (Animal behaviourist) in association with Virbac Animal Health

What are Fears & Phobias


Fear is normal in the range of animal behaviours. When fears become a barrier to normal functioning they require understanding and treatment.

A phobia is a fear that prevents normal functioning and where the response to the feared stimulus is out of proportion to the actual threat posed to the animal.

Types & Causes of Fears and Phobias


  • Noises (esp. thunder and fire crackers)
  • Human features (esp. gender)
  • Handling & grooming
  • Locations (esp. vet clinic)
  • Separation anxiety
  • Trauma
  • Fear imprint period
  • Learned or rewarded behaviour
  • Old age
  • Physical/medical conditions
  • Malsocialisation
  • Sensory deprivation
  • Innate survival mechanism

DAP Diffuser - also available as a spray


Feliway Diffuser - also available as a spray


How animals show anxiety will vary and may include the following:


  • Vocalisation
  • Scratching, digging and other destructive behaviour
  • Attention soliciting
  • Escape behaviour
  • Quiet withdrawal
  • Self mutilation
  • Aggression



Treatment of behaviour related issues should always involved consultation with your veterinarian in the first instance. Your veterinarian will examine your pet and ensure there is no medical reason contributing to the behaviour. The visit will then usually result in referral to a trained animal behaviourist.

Therapy for phobias and fears will involve behaviour therapy and is also likely to include the use of phermones such as DAP (for dogs) or Feliway (for cats). Anti-anxiety drugs are another option that may be considered in conjunction with the above. These need to be prescribed by your veterinarian.


If you think your pet has a fear or a phobia, contact as as soon as you are concerned about the problem, as the earlier you seek assistance, the more likely it is that resolution will be able to be achieved.

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