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Spotting Fear, Anxiety, and Stress

Updated: Feb 19, 2022

Click to learn more about Fear Free Pets

Earlier this week, I wrote about dealing with pet stress during the holidays. Great advice - if you know how to spot it! Fear, anxiety, and stress (or #FAS) can be easily identified once you now what to look for. Here, I will describe signs of FAS in both cats and dogs, based on the #FearFreePets program.

Some signs of FAS are obvious while others are more subtle. Pay close attention to #catbehavior and #dogbehavior for early indicators and intervene by giving your pet space as early in the following progression as possible.

Fear, Anxiety, and Stress in Cats

Subtle signs of FAS:

- Avoids eye contact, turns head away without moving away, partially dilated pupils

- Head held just slightly down, slight brow furrowing, whiskers slightly back, ears partially to the side

- Body shifted slightly away, tail closer to body with possibly some slight flicking

Moderate FAS:

- Looking at stimulus, increased but not completely dilated pupils, brow furrowed

- Whiskers back, ears further to the side, increased respiratory rate

- Body crouched and leaning away, tail tight to body with tip possibly moving some

Severe FAS - #Flight

- Actively trying to escape or flee, hunkered down, tail down and bottle brushed

- Looking at stimulus, pupils dilated, ears back, whiskers back

Severe FAS - #Freeze or #Fret

- Staring, dilated pupils, furrowed brow, whiskers and ears back

- Body flattened and tense, tonic immobility, tail tucked or thrashing

- Increased respiratory rate, lips pulled back, could be swatting and/or hissing

Severe FAS - #Fight:

- Starting, pupils constricted or dilated, may be growling, whiskers, ears, and movement are forward

- Rump higher than front, on toes, tail is an inverted L (1st" is horizontal then drops down)

Fear, Anxiety, and Stress in dogs

Subtle signs of FAS:

- Lip licking, slight panting, lifts paw

- Avoids eye contact, turns head away without moving away, partially dilated pupils

Moderate FAS:

- Ears slightly back or to side, moderate pupil dilation, head may turn away, may refuse treats or take roughly

- Furrowed brow, panting with a tighter mouth, tail down but not necessarily completely tucked

- Slow movements or unable to settle, fidgeting, may be attention seeking or hesitant but not avoiding interaction

Severe FAS - Flight

- Actively trying to escape, slinking away or running, tail tucked

- Ears back, showing whites of eyes, brow furrowed, pupils dilate

- Mouth closed or excessive panting, tongue tight instead mouth

Severe FAS - Freeze

- Pupils dilated, ears back, increased respiratory rate, tense closed mouth

- Tail tucked, body hunched, tonic mobility, trembling

Severe FAS - Fight

- Looking at, ears forward, pupils possibly dilated or constricted, showing teeth, lips puckering forward, tongue tight and thin

- Lunging forward, tail up, hair may be up

Learn more at my Dealing with Fear, Anxiety, and Stress workshop in Warwick RI on Weds Dec 19!

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