Dogs are similar to humans in so many ways. However, apart from their ability to be attentive friends and supporters, dogs may also experience debilitating health conditions, just like we do. One of them is an anxiety disorder.
The primary difference between a pet and a person struggling with anxiety is the pet’s inability to say what’s distressing it. Thus, your duty, as a pet owner, is to recognize the symptoms and address them timely. Fortunately, in some ways, dogs are capable of showing that something is off.
Nevertheless, it is crucial to read more and educate yourself on the subject, especially if you’ve already noticed that your dog is stressed when you’re away. In this article, you will find more information about anxiety symptoms in dogs – from hiding in strange places, panting, and pacing to destroying your furniture – and how to deal with them. Read on and ensure your pet’s peace of mind!
Symptoms of Dog Anxiety
Anxiety in dogs is usually accompanied by a number of various symptoms connected to a pet’s behavior and physical condition. Some of them occur only in particular situations, some can also indicate other health issues, but any of them may become recurrent. For that reason, it is crucial to be aware of possible dog anxiety symptoms to address them timely and prevent the development of more serious issues.
Here is a list of the most common anxiety symptoms in dogs:
- excessive barking, whining, howling or growling (to attract your attention)
- shaking, pacing, or panting
- excessive drooling, licking, or yawning
- changes in body posture (cowering, tucking their tail, etc.)
- increased shedding
- loss of bowel or bladder control
- decreased appetite
- avoiding, hiding, escaping, or displacement behaviors (digging, looking away, etc.)
- depression, lethargy, or disinterest
- compulsive or destructive behaviors (damaging furniture or other items, self-harm)
Being mindful of these symptoms can allow you to detect a dog’s anxiety while it is still in a mild stage and react accordingly, keeping your pet away from stress-inducing situations and preventing it from harming or injuring itself. This will allow you not only to avoid expensive veterinary treatments but will also ensure your dog’s peace of mind, which should be your, as a pet owner’s, top priority.
Causes of Anxiety in Dogs
To be able to help your four-legged companion to deal with anxiety symptoms, you have to understand what causes it in the first place. There are many various causes of stress-related behaviors in dogs – from the separation process and new people to unknown environments, inconsistent training, and aging, among other things. Here is more information about the most common dog anxiety causes that make your pet to be on edge:
Separation anxiety is probably the most common issue pet owners have to deal with right after bringing a puppy to a new family. Dogs show attachment to their mothers and then to their owners, which is identical to the behavior of human infants in relation to their parents.
Many specialists believe that the age of weaning a puppy from its mother can affect its anxiety in adulthood. However, there is also the possibility that maternal care in dogs is much more important than the dog’s age during their separation. This research shows that the level of maternal care in a dog affects many characteristics in the behavior of its offspring in adulthood, including stress-related behaviors.
There are many different triggers that may provoke fear-related anxiety in dogs, including:
- unknown environments and situations (such as moving to a new house or riding in a car)
- strange people and animals
- loud noises (including thunderstorms and fireworks)
- certain objects
Fear and anxiety may or may not correspond to the degree of danger, but they serve as a warning of the upcoming danger. This allows you to focus on its source and, therefore, help your dog to avoid frightening situations.
It is crucial to notice when your dog experiences abnormal stress – e.g., feels fearful in specific situations or gets scared by particular noises or visual stimuli. Neglecting these signs as well as continuous exposure to such triggers may lead to developing a phobia. Phobias, when left unaddressed, are more likely to result in your dog being constantly anxious.
In its turn, anxiety in older dogs may also be a symptom of a more severe health issue, such as canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CCD syndrome), also referred to as an “old dog syndrome” or “dog dementia.” This health problem is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans, and is characterized by symptoms, such as disorientation, restlessness, compulsive behavior, confusion, declined memory and perception, etc.
The presence of all of these symptoms can make senior dogs feel in danger when being left on their own, leading to increased stress and anxiety levels.
How to Help Your Dog Overcome Anxiety
When it comes to choosing the proper anxiety treatment for your dog, it is crucial to visit your pet’s veterinarian first. As every dog is an individual case, make sure to discuss all the symptoms you have noticed according to the context (situations) in which they have occurred. This will allow the vet to determine whether it is a situational or regular issue, identify its causes and triggers, and prescribe appropriate treatment.
Most common treatment options include behavioral training, correcting the conditions of dog-keeping, using medications or other auxiliary means, such as calming beds or CBD oils. Today, you can find brands like Relievet that specialize in making CBD-based products for pets. An effective treatment plan should combine all of these options, so here is what you should know about them:
Dogs behave normally in normal conditions, so before starting to correct your pet’s behavior, it is necessary to evaluate and improve (if needed) the conditions you keep it in. Ensure that you, as a pet owner, meet the following dog-keeping requirements:
- Your dog is provided with a balanced (not excessive, not insufficient) diet and has access to fresh water 24 hours a day.
- You schedule regular veterinarian visits and vaccinations, give your dog vitamins and anthelmintics when necessary.
- Your dog has its own place at home, a comfortable place to rest, and toys to entertain itself.
- You walk your dog at least 2-3 hours per day, providing it with sufficient amounts of physical exercise and socialization.
You can use several training methods to correct your dog’s behavior and help it overcome anxiety, such as target training or positive reinforcement. However, counterconditioning and desensitization remain the most effective techniques.
Counterconditioning (also referred to as a response substitution) is training that aims at changing your dog’s emotional response to a particular object, sound, or situation from an anxious reaction to a positive one. It can be achieved by exposing the dog to a certain stimulus and rewarding it after receiving a desirable response.
Desensitization is the process that aims to get your dog used to particular stimuli by controlled, low-intensity exposure to the particular stimulus, so there is no undesirable reaction to it or no reaction at all. And then, getting it desensitized to gradually more intense levels of the same stimulus.
Both of these training strategies require having full control over both your dog and the stimulus you are going to expose it to, as well as a motivating reward. It is also crucial to understand that punishing your dog during the retraining process or in case of regress will only strengthen your dog’s anxiety towards the stimulus. Thus, make sure to remain confident and patient and avoid punishing interactions and a judgemental tone during the training session.
You may also consider getting professional advice from a certified dog trainer or hire one to help you retrain your dog.
Medications and Natural Therapies
In severe cases, particular FDA-approved medications may be prescribed as a part of an anxiety treatment plan to help your dog cope with extreme situational stress, such as fear of fireworks, long-distance travels, etc. Usually, the duration of medical treatment ranges from six months (with at least two months before any noticeable changes may occur) to several years, depending on the pet’s response to medication. However, some medications act more immediately.
One of the most commonly prescribed medications for dealing with dog anxiety are:
Apart from those, a veterinarian may recommend trying natural remedies or supplements first. These include L-theanine, magnolia and phellodendron extracts, theanine, whey protein concentrate, and some more. Another option is using CBD-based products – a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis and hemp plants, shown to help manage pain, inflammation, and stress and anxiety levels.
It is crucial to understand that only a veterinarian can identify which medications will work best for your dog’s case and determine the correct dosage. Thus, even if you can get some of the mentioned medications or natural remedies over the counter, you should still consult incorporating them into your pet’s anxiety treatment with the vet first.
If you have a dog that struggles with anxiety, it is crucial to start by detecting its cause and the primary triggers. In order to do that, make sure to observe which symptoms are present, how frequently they occur, in which situations, and do not postpone discussing them with a veterinarian. It will allow you not only to get the best treatment plan for your pet but also prevent these symptoms from evolving into severe health conditions or undesirable, destructive behaviors.
A comprehensive anxiety treatment plan should consist of behavioral training paired with medications or supplements if required. Remember that your dog is already experiencing enough pressure and stress, so your approach to anxiety treatment should be strict yet delicate and understanding. Make sure to allocate enough time for retraining, be patient, and positive results won’t be far behind.