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Pet anxiety in the US

Highlights

  • Dog separation anxiety jumps well over 700% in only two years
  • Fear of strangers surges, outpacing a fear of loud noises to become the leading cause of anxiety in dogs after a 295% increase since 2020
  • Anxiety caused by Other Cats/Dogs jumps significantly in dogs — from just 16.5% in 2020 to 43.52% in 2022

Pet anxiety surges dramatically during COVID.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every part of daily life, including  a 25% increase in anxiety and depression globally. From loneliness related to isolation and fear of infection to financial stress and worrying about loved ones, mental health suffered significantly. But how have our pets held up through all of this?

Change in general can be difficult for pets to process, and the last two years have brought significant change into nearly every household. From transitioning into Covid schedules (pet owners and children at home more frequently) to transition back out of these schedules, pets have had to readjust multiple times. In one study conducted in 2020, pet (dog and cat) owners reported that their pets provided considerable support during the pandemic, but these same owners imagined the overall quality of life for their pets decreasing.

Column chart: Causes of anxiety in dogs and cats, 2022 

Table 1. Causes of anxiety in dogs and cats, 2022.

Cause of Anxiety % of dogs % of cats

Other dogs or cats

43.52%

54.0%

Strangers

58.02%

49.9%

Separation (i.e. being left home alone)

47.38%

34.4%

Particular surfaces

12.35%

8.9%

New/novel experiences

18.21%

18.6%

Loud noises

57.41%

60.9%

Heights

11.73%

9.7%

* What causes your dog/cat to behave in an anxious manner (select all that apply)?

Although the stress reducing benefits of pet ownership are well known and many people turn to their pets for comfort and support during difficult times, data from a recent Green Element survey found that our pets are not enjoying the same benefits from this relationship. Anxiety is plaguing our four-legged friends, and dogs in particular are bearing the brunt of it.

Illustrations of dogs in different positions to display feelings.

 

Illustrations of cats in positions indicating anxiety.

Signs and Symptoms of Pet Anxiety Range From Disruptive to Destructive

Barking and hyperactivity most common in dogs

Most signs of dog anxiety vary not only in presentation, but also in frequency and observability. For example, excessive barking and hyperactivity may go unnoticed when owners are not present, but inappropriate urination or defecation and destructive behavior can be tracked after the fact. Stereotypic behaviors — defined in this survey as “tail chasing, pacing, licking, chasing or snapping at reflections or shadows” — are similarly difficult to detect without direct observation. Recent research from Guide Dogs also suggests that many owners may not even notice signs of anxiety.

In the Green Element survey, nearly half of all dog owners report observing barking and hyperactivity repeatedly (every week or every other day) or more frequently, with 12.05% and 10.80% reporting barking and hyperactivity, respectively, multiple times per day. More damaging behaviors emerge as less widespread, but still common. Over 26% of dog owners observe destructive behavior repeatedly (every week or every other day) while more than 18% experience inappropriate urination or defecation with the same frequency.

Column chart: Signs of anxiety in dogs

 

Table 2. Signs of anxiety in dogs

Sign of anxiety % seen several times per day % seen daily % seen repeatedly (every other day-weekly) % seen every once in a while (monthly-yearly) % seen a few times during the pet’s lifetime % seen never % seen range: from repeatedly (every other day-weekly) to several times a day.

Aggression (growling, Snapping, Scratching, Biting, etc.)

9.88%

11.88%

10.19%

21.60%

20.52%

25.93%

31.95%

Destructive behavior

6.02%

9.88%

10.65%

21.91%

21.30%

30.25%

26.55%

Excessive barking

12.04%

17.75%

17.90%

20.37%

13.27%

18.67%

47.69%

Fear

5.40%

10.65%

12.96%

22.69%

19.44%

28.86%

29.01%

Hyperactivity

10.80%

20.99%

18.83%

16.51%

15.28%

17.59%

50.62%

Impulsivity

7.87%

12.81%

13.12%

18.98%

17.75%

29.48%

33.80%

Stereotypic behaviors (tail chasing, pacing, licking, chasing or snapping at reflections or shadows)

11.27%

16.36%

13.89%

19.91%

13.27%

25.31%

41.52%

Trembling/shaking

6.94%

8.33%

8.49%

20.06%

19.44%

36.73%

23.76%

Inappropriate urination or defecation

5.40%

5.40%

8.02%

14.20%

20.37%

46.60%

18.82%

Withdrawal

3.40%

5.25%

8.33%

13.58%

14.66%

54.78%

16.98%

* Have you observed any of the following signs of anxiety in your dog?

 

Tail Flicking and Shifting Head/Body away are widespread behaviors in anxious cats

Symptoms of anxiety in cats are often more subtle, but observant owners report telltale signs, including tail flicking, avoiding eye contact, and shifting head/body away repeatedly (every week or every other day) or more often.

 

Column chart: Signs of anxiety in cats

Table 3. Signs of anxiety in cats

 Signs of anxiety

% Several times per day

% Daily

% Repeatedly (every other day-weekly)

% Every once in a while (monthly-yearly)

 

% A few times during the pet’s lifetime

% Never

% ranging from Repeatedly (every other day-weekly) to several times a day.

Avoiding eye contact

9.14%

13.02%

10.25%

18.84%

15.51%

33.24%

32.41%

Shifting head or body away

10.80%

13.57%

10.53%

23.27%

17.45%

24.38%

34.90%

Nervous tail flicking

9.70%

12.47%

16.90%

22.44%

17.73%

20.78%

39.07%

Increased respiratory rate

4.99%

7.48%

10.25%

21.61%

16.34%

39.34%

22.72%

Increased pupil dilation

8.31%

10.25%

13.57%

18.28%

14.96%

34.63%

32.13%

Holding ears back

6.93%

10.25%

14.13%

27.42%

18.01%

23.27%

31.31%

Aggression (hissing, scratching, biting)

8.86%

8.31%

14.68%

25.21%

19.11%

23.82%

31.85%

Hair on end

3.60%

10.80%

10.53%

18.01%

27.42%

29.64%

24.93%

* Have you observed any of the following signs of anxiety in your cat?

Anxiety in dogs reaches alarming levels

Compared to a study released in 2020 on canine anxiety in Finland, the Green Element survey of over 1000 pet owners finds anxiety in dogs increasing anywhere from 40% to over 700% over the last two years alone.

Column chart: Causes of anxiety in dogs, 2020 and 2022.

Causes of anxiety in dogs, 2020 and 2022.

Cause of anxiety

2020

2022

Noise sensitivity

32.40%

57.41%

Fear of dogs

16.50%

43.52%

Fear of strangers

14.70%

58.02%

Fear of novel situations

11.30%

18.21%

Separation related behavior

5.50%

47.38%

* What causes your dog to behave in an anxious manner (select all that apply)?

Although not the single greatest increase, a dramatic rise in a fear of strangers (a 295% increase from 2020) stands out both for its considerable growth and because this fear now narrowly outpaces a fear of loud noises (which also increased by 77% since 2020).

Over half of all cats display anxious behavior

The 2020 study did not include cats, preventing a comparison, but the Green Element survey included feline family members. According to 361 cat owners, anxiety is also high in cats. Loud noises, other dogs and cats, and strangers lead to at least 50% of respondents observing anxious behaviors, while 34% note anxious behaviors related to separation. 

"My cat gets anxious around strangers and loud noises. I have been putting her in therapy and on medication which seems to help."

Column Chart: Causes of anxiety in cats, 2022.

Table 4. Causes of anxiety in cats, 2022.

Causes of anxiety % of cats

Other dogs or cats

54.0%

Strangers

49.9%

Separation (i.e. being left home alone)

34.4%

Particular surfaces

8.9%

New/novel experiences

18.6%

Loud noises

60.9%

Heights

9.7%

* What causes your cat to behave in an anxious manner (select all that apply)?

Anxiety in Pets Poised to Worsen in Summer Months 

As summer nears, amplified anxiety may be just around the corner for pets who’ve spent the last two years with only their owners. As more people and pets move back out into the world as pre-covid schedules/lifestyles resume and summer approaches, anxiety triggers abound, and we may be entering a difficult period for our furry companions.

Summer brings separation after anxiety sees triple digit growth in two years

"My dog is anxious when we leave for work. He sometimes gets into the stuff he is not allowed or pees on the carpet."

Numerous sources have looked at the potential increased risk of pet separation anxiety when pre-COVID schedules resume and people spend additional time away from their pets. The Green Element survey appears to support these claims, with 47.38% of dog owners observing anxious behaviors due to separation, an astounding 760% increase since 2020.

 

Column chart: Separation-relatd behavior in dogs, 2020-2022 

Additional research for specifics on separation

Additional research is needed to understand the specific reasons for this increase. A comparison of time spent at home prior to covid, during covid, and post Covid remains necessary to understand the potential links. As many signs of anxiety must be observed while they occur rather than after the fact, additional time at home could simply provide owners with additional opportunities to observe and report the behavior. Regardless, separation-related anxiety was seen as nearly a non-issue compared to other causes of anxiety in 2020, so it is clear the reality of separation is rearing its ugly head.

Strangers abound as fear outpaces loud noises in anxious dogs

Column chart: Causes of anxiety in dogs, 2022

“Stranger danger” is more pronounced than ever in man’s best friend. With 58.02% of dog owners observing anxious behaviors related to strangers, up from 14.7% in 2020, the summer months are poised to present many anxiety-inducing moments.

Column Chart: Fear of strangers in dog, 2020 and 2022.

Regardless of where owners end up with their post-Covid schedules, strangers — at least in the eyes of dogs — abound. With summer travel approaching and a return to on-site/in-office work for many, dogs are likely to encounter new people. Additionally, in keeping with social distancing guidelines, it’s likely many owners have avoided contact with other people and dogs while walking, limiting their pets’ exposure to new experiences, people, and other animals.

There will be an abundance of new faces at the office, when traveling, and even potentially at home for owners who hire dog walkers, dog sitters, and others to care for their dog while they’re away. To further compound the issue, every new face represents a new change, adding to the already growing list of changes these animals have endured.

Fireworks are a significant part of many summer celebrations in the United States — especially the Fourth of July — and summer weather brings thunder and, for many, tornado sirens. Pet owners are also likely to be spending more time away from home and their pets this summer than the last two years, meaning there may be fewer opportunities to provide comfort to pets when these sounds occur, leading to the perfect storm of anxiety triggers.

As pets enjoy increased outdoor time, Dogs more anxious than ever about other four-legged friends

Column Chart: Fear of Other dogs or cats

Similar to stranger danger but with four-legged strangers, the anxiety response driven by other dogs and cats rose significantly in dogs from 2020, jumping from 16.5% to 43.52% (a 164% increase in just two years). More dogs will be on walks as weather continues to improve and more cats are likely to be spending time outside the house, leaving dogs confronted with an increase in anxiety triggers.

Over half of all cats emerge anxious about other cats/dogs

Notably, the Green Element survey found cats more susceptible than dogs to anxiety behaviors driven by other dogs/cats, with over 54% of cat owners observing anxious behavior as a result of these encounters.

Summer sounds cause anxiety in majority of dogs, led by Fireworks, thunder

Column Chart: Fear of Other dogs or cats

Although numbers haven’t risen as dramatically as other categories, loud noises remain a significant trigger for dogs. The Green Element survey found that 57.41% of dogs display anxious behavior due to loud noises, a 77% increase since 2020.

 

"He gets anxious during thunderstorms and when people are letting off fireworks. He sometimes gets nervous around strangers."

To further clarify triggers, the survey delineated loud noises into four categories: Fireworks, Gunfire, Sirens, and Thunder. Fireworks emerge as the noise most likely to cause anxious behavior, with over 81% of respondents observing this behavior. Thunder was the next most common, with nearly 70%, followed by gunfire and Sirens at 57.53% and 45.16% respectively.

Column chart: most common noise fears in pets with noise sensitivity.

Table 5. Most common noise fears in pets with noise sensitivity

Most common noise fears.

% of pets

Fireworks

77.70%

Gunfire

51.35%

Sirens

47.47%

Thunder

68.75%

Other

7.77%

An Anxious Road Ahead

Pet anxiety may not be a new phenomenon, but it is clearly rising dramatically. Dogs and cats alike are important parts of the family, providing comfort, companionship, and support in difficult times, but they’re struggling. And the summer months may not be quite as enjoyable for anyone — dog, cat, or human — if this anxiety is left unchecked.

Survey Methods

All data found within this report is based on an online survey commissioned by Green Element and conducted online by the research firm Pollfish. In total, 1,000 adult Americans ages 18 and up were surveyed (650 dog owners and 350 cat owners. This survey was conducted in May, 2022. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities.