Pet Parent Article: Monitoring your Pet's Emotions

Does your dog ever seem sad to you? Does your cat ever seem angry? The truth is that they probably were for one reason or another. Thanks to modern science and research, it has been reported that dogs and cats can feel anger, happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, and surprise. Some pets may have more complex emotions and feelings in addition to those aforementioned, such as disappointment, shame, and compassion. Dogs tend to be more emotionally expressive than their feline counterparts. 


Why is knowing that our pets feel a certain type of way important? 

Just as we are aware of our own emotional status as well as that of our partners, children, co-workers, etc, we need to be cognizant of how our pets are feeling. Their state of mind can provide insight into their mental and physical health. Fear and anxiety are common in many pets; if treated properly and promptly, we can decrease it and improve our pet’s mental health. Left untreated, it can escalate to fear-aggression, destructive behaviors, and more. Fear and anxiety can also be associated with pain. Changes to emotional states and personality can indicate brain and nervous system or endocrine disorders.

What is Emotional Monitoring?

Tracking the daily emotional trends of your dogs and cats through Anipanion can illustrate trends and will alert you to subtle changes in their health status. A single episode of a change in personality or behavior, or emotional outbursts, may not be important. Tracking these and watching for trends, however, can help us understand if a bigger problem is occurring. 


How can you tell what your pet may be feeling? 

Monitoring body language and interactions with people and animals within the home will provide clues as to how your pet is feeling. Your dog’s emotional maturity is similar to that of a toddler. When assessing your pet’s current emotional status, consider the context. Does your dog seem unusually fearful today? You remember that there are thunderstorms predicted for your area. Let’s put Linus in the bedroom with soft music playing to ease his storm phobia. Also, remember that emotions are dynamic and not static. There is a range of feelings pets can have that can change throughout the day. You, as the owner, observe your pet daily and will be the expert at interpreting what your furry friend is feeling.


Dogs

  • A happy dog will be relaxed with a wagging tail or a wiggling body. Their ears may be lifted up, their faces relaxed, and they may even appear to be smiling or may pant. They usually want to interact with their environment and will engage in play and sleep comfortably.
  • An angry or aggressive dog may present with a stiff, rigid body posture. They may bare their teeth, growl, or bark and make direct eye contact. Anger or aggressive behaviors are often rooted in fear of a person or situation, or a medical condition causing pain. 
  • A sad or depressed dog may avoid eye contact. They may tuck their tails, refuse to eat, and show disinterest. They may also isolate themselves. This can be due to changes in their environment, like a dog who is lost or without their family. It can also be due to illness.
  • A fearful pet may show similar signs to anger or aggression, or sadness. They may also pace, be unable to settle, yawn, or freeze. They may cower, hide, or exhibit signs of aggression. Fear is a complex emotion that can manifest in many physical forms, from “shutting down” to aggression. 
  • A surprised dog may vocalize, be on high alert, have rigid posture, and a focused gaze. 



Cats 

  • Cats are much harder to discern their emotional state. Their expressions of their feelings are extremely variable and subtle. 
  • Their tails can tell a lot. A high held tail can indicate that they are willing to socialize, while a low tail means keep your distance. A wagging tail can show that they are irritated, while a fluffed up tail can mean fear or that they are preparing to attack. 
  • An angry cat may have its ears flattened or pinned back.
  • A kneading cat is often happy, content, and relaxed.
  • Purring can indicate happiness and contentment, but it also can mean your cat is painful or self-soothing. 
  • Happy cats will usually be more social while a sad or fearful cat may be withdrawn and elusive. 

What does it mean when they are feeling sad or angry when they normally are happy?

A change in canine or feline emotional state can be indicative of a mental or physical problem. A normally happy, energetic pet may be sad because she is painful, dehydrated, or nauseated. A fearful pet that is normally relaxed and cheerful may also be feeling discomfort or experiencing a behavioral issue. 


Changes in the emotional state of your pet can be the first symptom of illness exhibited allowing pet parents to seek veterinary care early. Prompt medical intervention can increase the chances of a positive medical outcome while lessening your pet’s pain and suffering. Try Anipanion’s app today and record your pet’s daily habits to ensure their health and happiness!

 

Real-World Scenario

Patient

Pet: Fluffy

 

Signalment: 11yo, FS, indoor-only cat

 

Medical History: UTD vaccines and preventive care. No previous medical problems.

 

Fluffy is a sweet cat. She loves napping in the recliner, being brushed by her owner every day, and squeaking at birds through the window. Fluffy has 2 other feline housemates. 

Scenario A

Fluffy seemed to be doing well and happy as usual. She was still napping in her favorite spot and loved being brushed, but she was no longer interested in her birds.

 

Over the next few weeks, Fluffy started not coming to her brushing sessions with her owner. She would show up 1 day and then not appear for another 2 days, but she was still napping, eating, and drinking as far as the owner could tell. There were 3 cats in the home, so it was hard to tell.

 

Fluffy did seem to be melancholy and was napping more. Her owner noticed her fur appeared to be matted, but she attributed this to not being brushed as much. Months passed. 

 

Her owner noticed one day that Fluffy did not leave the recliner at all. Not to eat or drink. When she went to pick Fluffy up she could easily feel her bones and knew she had lost weight. 

 

Fluffy was brought to the vet the next day and diagnosed with Stage 4 Kidney Disease via the IRIS guidelines. Her azotemia was severe and she required hospitalization. Fluffy underwent treatment for 1 week. Her kidney values only mildly improved. She was weak and disinterested in food despite the best efforts of the veterinary staff. Her owner elected humane euthanasia. 

Scenario B: Anipanion Tracking

 

Fluffy seemed to be doing well and happy as usual. She was still napping in her favorite spot and loved being brushed, but she was no longer interested in her birds. Having recently downloaded the Anipanion app, her owner updated Fluffy’s emotional state and activity level daily. After all, Fluffy was a senior cat and her owner wanted to make sure to monitor her health closely. 

 

Fluffy started missing her brushing sessions and appeared to be sad and glum, which alerted her owner. She again updated Fluffy’s daily status on the app and realized that Fluffy’s activity level and emotional status were trending down.

 

An appointment was made to see the vet next week. Fluffy was diagnosed with Stage 2 Kidney Disease via the IRIS guidelines.

 

Fortunately, Fluffy received an early medical intervention. She hadn’t lost weight and continued to eat and drink. Fluffy was placed on a kidney protective prescription diet to slow the progression of the disease and to keep her healthier longer. She began an SQ fluid therapy regimen as well.

 

Fluffy did not have to be hospitalized and her suffering was minimal. Fluffy was rechecked 3 months later. Her kidney values mildly improved. She was enjoying her daily brushing again, was more social, and happier.