Anxiety in dogs is much the same as it appears in humans, in that it can be normal and healthy, or acute and problematic, sometimes requiring diagnosis and treatment.
Any dog, no matter the breed, can suffer with anxiety, and the causes and triggers can vary. If the regularity and severity of the anxiety is significant enough, then it certainly warrants further investigation. There are a number of behavioral and medication-based approaches that can help.
Signs that your dog is suffering with anxiety
Signs that your dog could be suffering with anxiety include:
- Pacing and restlessness
- Panting and drooling
- Excessive barking or whining
- Destructive behaviors
- Urinating or defecating in the house
- Depressive, flat mood
- Loss of appetite
Not all of these behaviors are necessary to confirm the presence of anxiety, but a combination of them is common. If these signs are only occasionally witnessed and don’t appear to be severe, then it is possible that your dog is experiencing normal, healthy levels of anxiety that require no professional intervention. For example, a dog may have an anxious reaction to fireworks, but being that they are such an uncommon event, it’s possible that no action is required so long as the reaction is not too intense or problematic. In this case, taking precautionary action to minimize their stress is sufficient.
Types of anxiety in dogs
Sometimes, anxiety in dogs is ongoing and requires further attention. Such anxieties are often caused by one of three reasons. These are:
As discussed, sudden, loud noises, such as chainsaws, could trigger an anxious response, but for some dogs, their fear is triggered regularly by a broader range of stimuli. This triggering stimuli could include unfamiliar animals or people, different environments, unusual visual stimuli, such as umbrellas, beards, or hats, and more. Every dog is different and so too will their triggers be. Car rides and vet clinics are common triggers.
Again, one-off triggers can often be easily managed or solved with training, but a variety of triggers signals the likelihood of fear-based anxiety.
Similarly to toddlers, dogs can experience anxiety when left alone or specifically when separated from their owners or family members. This can be especially intense if they have not been properly socialized as a pup, as well as desensitized to being alone for reasonable periods of time.
Excessive barking and whining, destroying furniture and doors, and defecating in the house are common signs of separation anxiety when dogs are left alone. It can be hard for a dog suffering with separation anxiety to calm themselves down, so while it’s understandably frustrating to be angry when they exhibit these behaviors, it isn’t helpful to punish them, as it probably felt out of their control. Having a safe, comfortable place for your dog to stay, such as a Horizon Structures Kennel while you are away can help to minimize separation stress.
As dogs get older, they can begin to develop cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). This condition results in impaired cognitive functions, such as difficulties with memory, perception, concentration, spatial awareness and more. These impairments can feel confusing and elicit feelings of frustration and anxiety.
Treatment for anxiety in dogs
The most important first step to take is to make an appointment with your local vet. They can assess your dog thoroughly, rule out any contributing medical conditions and then determine the cause and severity of their anxiety. From there, a treatment plan can be created.
Treatment for anxiety in dogs can vary depending on the nature and severity of the condition, but some combination is usually most effective. Treatment options include:
Counterconditioning works to alter the conditioned response that your dog has to certain triggering stimuli. By gradually interrupting their anxious response with positive reinforcements, treats and comfort, over time, their association to the anxiety-provoking stimuli can transform.
Desensitization is a similar approach, in which the dog is exposed to low-level, gentler versions of the triggering stimuli while receiving immediate positive reinforcements (such as praise and rewards) to any calm reactions. This can desensitize the dog to the stimuli as it is gradually increased.
Diet and supplementation
It is important to consult with your vet to ensure that your dog is receiving adequate nutrition to maintain a healthy nervous system. Depending on the findings, your vet may suggest a change in diet or supplementation to better support your dog’s overall health.
Sometimes it is advised to treat more severe cases of canine anxiety with medications, such as SSRIs and antidepressants, as well as occasional benzodiazepines for acute reactions. While this may feel confronting, it can dramatically improve their quality of life, and in many instances can simply be a temporary measure to assist with training and conditioning therapies.
Older dogs suffering with CDS are sometimes prescribed a drug called Selegiline, which works to reduce the severity of CDS symptoms and in turn alleviate some of their anxieties.
Even though there is yet to be any conclusive scientific evidence of efficacy, there are some anecdotal reports of the successful use of CBD oil in helping pets with anxiety. Your vet will be able to advise you further as to whether this is an appropriate course of action.
It can be distressing to witness your dog suffer with anxiety, and while some of their behaviors can be equally frustrating, it’s important to remain calm and seek out a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. With the right approach, you should soon see some improvements.