All animals, including human beings and dogs have the ability to experience anxiety. This is a healthy and normal emotion that has a genuine purpose in life, but in excess it can be unpleasant and can cause a great deal of difficulty in a dog’s life. Dogs of all breeds experience anxiety, and just like people, anxiety affects each dog differently. In this article we provide an overview of the symptoms and types of anxiety common in dogs. We also provide good advice on dealing with your anxious dog. Read on to learn more.
What Happens When a Dog is Anxious?
It is possible for dogs to experience chronic anxiety due to health and cognitive challenges such as aging, injury and/or illness; however, most anxiety in dogs is acute and caused by specific circumstances.
For example, a dog may experience fear and anxiety when confronted with:
Some dogs may exhibit initial fear when confronted with these people, places and things, but they will typically get over it quickly. Dogs who have problems with anxiety or may be developing or fully involved in an anxiety disorder will have exaggerated responses which they cannot overcome.
When high levels of continuous anxiety are present, and are not addressed, they can quickly spiral to become an anxiety disorder. Dogs experiencing anxiety disorders who go untreated develop a constellation of health and behavioral issues surrounding the anxiety.
What are the Symptoms of Anxiety in Dogs?
Any dog encountering a naturally anxiety producing situation may exhibit any or all of these symptoms. Dogs experiencing chronic anxiety tend to experience one or all of these symptoms in a regular and ongoing manner.
Can Canine Anxiety Be Dangerous?
Anxious dogs can easily hurt themselves or others trying to flee or fight the object of their perceived fear. Naturally, a dog who is aggressive when anxious is quite dangerous. This type of dog is often called a "fear biter".
These dogs cannot control their aggression because they are so afraid of being hurt. This kind of aggression cannot only be dangerous for the target of the aggression, it can also be dangerous for any person who comes between the dog and the target.
Furthermore, dogs who do not exhibit overt aggression (e.g. biting or otherwise attacking) may exhibit passive aggression such as loud barking and/or growling. This can lead to a wide variety of complicated, undesirable and unpleasant situations for the dog and its people.
For example, police may automatically shoot a dog who is growling even if it is not showing any other sign of aggression.
Are There Different Types Of Anxiety In Dogs?
Just as with people, different reasons for anxiety produce different types of anxiety in dogs. As indicated, any of the fears we have mentioned can become full blown phobias (irrational fears) without intervention.
Separation anxiety, which is the fear of being alone, is very common in dogs. Dogs experiencing separation anxiety cannot tolerate being left on their own or separated from familiar companions or people.
When a dog is anxious over separation, he or she may exhibit a wide variety of undesirable behaviors including:
It takes a great deal of patience to work on this problem through the use of positive reinforcement, but it can be done.
Older dogs may develop anxiety associated with their failing abilities and also with a condition known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). Dogs may become fearful when they can no longer see or hear as well as they once did. The inability to move about quickly and easily can also cause anxiety.
CDS is very similar to Alzheimer's in people. Dogs experiencing this syndrome begin to lose their memory; are unable to learn new things and may perceive people, places, things and events incorrectly. Dogs experiencing this are naturally confused and anxious.
What Can You Do To Treat Anxiety In Dogs?
On your own, you can look for and eliminate possible triggers. For example, if your dog is anxious when you are gone, you may wish to:
Additionally, be sure to keep your dog in good health, play with and walk him regularly and introduce him (on leash) to new and interesting situations on a regular basis to help build up his confidence.
What if Your Dog is Still Anxious?
If you're unable to determine why your dog is anxious, talk with your veterinarian. Your vet can give you some insight on the many different types of anxiety that may be plaguing your dog. He or she will be able to help you determine if your dog’s anxiety is related to specific people, places and things or if it is a chronic condition caused by a mental or physical problem.
Your vet will give your dog a thorough physical exam to rule out medical problems that might be making your dog anxious. Working with your vet, you can devise a treatment plan which may include:
If your vet determines that your dog has an anxiety disorder, he or she may recommend some natural therapies, or even some prescription medications which are common to humans. For example, veterinary medicine is turning more and more to antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to treat dog anxiety.
These drugs are used on an as needed basis to deal with frightening events such as:
Benzodiazepine is a common medication your vet may prescribe for these situations. It is to be used in combination with SSRIs such as clomipramine or fluoxetine.
Some dogs will calm down easily in a frightening situation with a single dose of the over-the-counter medication, Benadryl. This should only be used occasionally, and you must get your vet’s go ahead before using it.
If your dog is anxious because he is old and experiencing cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), your vet may prescribe a drug called selegiline hydrochloride. This medication may be helpful in reducing some CDS symptoms.
Are There Natural Remedies to Help Dogs with Anxiety?
There are a number of natural therapies that can be helpful for dogs experiencing anxiety. Some natural remedies work by using aromatherapy and/or pheromones to help your dog relax. Some others, such as kava-kava or Valerian root are herbal medications that can work to help dogs calm down.
Many vets are recommending the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil, which is derived from industrial hemp plants (a cousin of marijuana). This substance has been found to be helpful to humans and animals in subduing anxiety symptoms. Discuss products and dosage with your vet.
Some of these natural remedies can be used in combination with prescription medications or with each other. Talk with your veterinarian before making any combination of treatments.
Why Do Some Dogs Have Anxiety & Others Do Not?
Dogs are just like people. Genetics, background, life experiences, health, nutrition and the events of the moment all work together to determine how they feel. In some dogs, these forces combine to create a dog who will develop an anxiety disorder. In others, the very same situation may lead to a momentary fear followed by curiosity. Just as with any other friend or family member, you must get to know your dog and understand his or her personality in order to prevent and cope with individual quirks.
When you take on a dog, you are taking on a lifelong commitment. As a responsible dog owner, you must spend time with your dog and do your best to provide for his needs and create a safe environment. When you are able to read your dog’s body language, you will be able to avoid situations that produce excessive anxiety. You will also be able to create an environment that produces a happy, peaceful life.
Working closely with your veterinarian and with the trainer, you will surely find the best combination of solutions to prevent and treat anxiety in your dog.