A Guide to Anxiety Conditions & Treatment for Dogs
Is your furry friend suffering from anxiety? How can you help calm them?
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What Is Dog Anxiety?
How can you tell the difference between anxiety in dogs and depression in dogs? How about a dog experiencing stress? There are a lot of overlaps here, so we’ll walk you through the emotional experiences your dog might encounter.
Dog anxiety looks very similar to human anxiety. Anxiety in dogs happens when your pet is faced with a person, animal, or situation that makes them feel fearful or worried. A few examples? Thunderstorms, fireworks, strangers, and being left by a pet parent (separation anxiety). They’ll feel anxious when faced with these obstacles, but may also feel anxious and exhibit symptoms of anxiety even when separated from them.
Can a dog get depressed? The answer is yes: Dog depression is an emotional response marked by sadness, low energy, and lack of motivation. Some common causes of depression in dogs are the loss of a loved one, illness, and mistreatment. Often considered a “mood disorder,” depression can affect dogs acutely (after a specific event) or chronically (for an ongoing period).
Stress in dogs will look a lot like dog anxiety, but with a few distinctions. Stress is an emotional response to a stressor such as a change in environment or a new pet, and will often trigger feelings of irritability, aggression, and territorialism.
So why do dogs get anxious in the first place? Common dog anxiety causes or situations can include:
Being left alone
Separation anxiety from a human or fellow pet
Being confined (e.g., in a crate)
Being ill or injured
Having limited social contact
Which Dog Breeds Are Most At Risk for Anxiety Issues?
So which dog breeds are prone to anxiety, according to the experts? See below for details:
Miniature Schnauzer Anxiety Issues
Border Collie Anxiety Issues
German Shepherd Anxiety Issues
Lagotto Romagnolos Anxiety Issues
Spanish Water Dog Anxiety Issues
While it’s true that they might require a bit more patience and support from their pet parents, anxious dog breeds shouldn’t be seen as a burden. Humans who suffer from anxiety disorders might find a deeper kinship with these breeds, who can often be more intelligent and emotionally complex than other dogs.
Signs & Symptoms of Anxiety in Dogs
Trying to decipher your dog’s anxiety symptoms, but not sure if you’re reading their signals right? If you’re wondering how to help a dog with anxiety knowing their warning behaviors will be your best asset.
These are the common signs of anxiety symptoms in dogs:
When something makes your dog uncomfortable, their first response might be to cower or shrink away from it. This is your first sign that they’re fearful, and want to retreat from a perceived danger.
When a dog whines, it can command the attention of everyone in the room. Whining might grate on your nerves, but remember that whining is your dog’s way of telling you that something is making them nervous or uneasy.
If your dog is whining and pacing–or even just pacing–something is up! Pacing is how your dog attempts to expel nervous physical energy, and may also be a sign of confusion if they aren’t sure of how to handle a certain situation that’s causing them emotional stress.
So your dog is panting, but they’re not exactly overheated–so what’s the deal? Panting isn’t just how your dog cools off; it’s also a physical manifestation of major feelings of stress or anxiety.
If your dog’s nose is dripping, anxiety could be to blame. While a runny nose is most commonly tied to allergies, it could also be a sign that they’re worked up over a stressful situation.
Dogs will drool when they’re excited for a toy or a delicious meal–but they can also drool when they’re excited in negative circumstances.
When dogs are feeling anxious, they might feel ‘backed into a corner’ or have trouble channeling those uncomfortable emotions. Destructive behavior is a result of these frustrations–tearing up toilet paper, pillows, or even clawing or chewing at inanimate objects like walls or furniture. Ever left your dog home alone, only to return to a house in ruins? That might be a result of a dog struggling with separation anxiety.
Urinating in the House
Some dogs dealing with anxiety will have trouble holding their pee (or poop) and will resort to going in the house–even if they’re well-trained to go outside. This could be because they’re too emotionally distraught to hold it, or because they’re terrified of a perceived threat (aka “submission urination”).
Dog Anxiety Complications & Diagnoses
Is your dog losing weight due to anxiety? Perhaps they’re dealing with a bout of dog depression because their anxiety issues have gone unchecked for too long. Treating your dog’s anxiety isn’t just crucial for their emotional well-being–it can also be a way to maintain internal health.
Maybe your dog ate a sock due to anxiety, or your dog is chewing themselves due to anxiety or stress. How can you know if it’s something that you need to treat? What if it’s just a passing moment of unease? Maybe it’s just a phase that they can get through on their own–but as a pet parent, you’ll want to take notes and share any troubling behaviors with your veterinarian to ensure your pet’s truly doing OK.
Earlier, we mentioned acute and chronic anxiety. What do those terms mean for your average dog?
Acute anxiety might happen to a dog with zero history of anxiety. Maybe they chew up a sock or have an accident in the house, and you figure it’s just a one-off response to stress. But how often are they being exposed to the stressor in question? Do you often leave them home alone during long work shifts, or live in a noisy neighborhood? Repeated instances of acute anxiety can quickly escalate into a more persistent condition.
Chronic anxiety is a more developed form of anxiety, affecting the same pet for a prolonged period–sometimes, forever. This can happen if your dog is a breed that’s predisposed to anxiety issues, or if your dog is living in a high-stress or anxiety-inducing environment. In other words, chronic anxiety can look like a tall plateau (i.e., when a dog is living with sustained high anxiety), or a long range of mountain peaks (i.e., when a dog is living with ongoing anxiety that seems to go up and down).
So what’s the good news? Just because your pet is living with chronic anxiety that doesn’t mean they’ll have to suffer with symptoms.
Common Anxiety Treatments & Relief
If you think your furry friend leans on the more anxious end of the mood spectrum, it’s more than OK to seek dog anxiety treatments to help them cope. Wondering how to help a dog with anxiety? Try one of these over-the-counter treatments:
Calming Supplements for Dogs
Some dogs could benefit from a daily dose of calm–but what if they’re picky eaters? The best calming supplement for dogs might help ease their nerves, while perking up their mood with delicious flavor. As with any dog supplement, make sure to administer the correct dose for your dog’s weight to avoid drowsiness or other side effects.
CBD Oil for Dogs
Cannibidiol (CBD) is a plant-derived compound with a slew of purported benefits, one of them being natural anxiety relief for dogs. CBD responds to the endocannabinoid system, a group of receptors present in dogs’ central nervous system. For this reason, studies suggest that CBD might be able to calm the effects of anxiety in dogs. You can try ingestible drops or CBD dog treats for anxiety.
Dog Calming Spray
If your dog is on a restricted diet or isn’t trusting of new treats, trying a calming spray for dogs might be more their speed. Just spritz the aromatic spray onto their fur, brush it through (bonus: combing is calming for them, too), and repeat daily or as needed.
In addition to dog calming supplements that you can buy, there are also plenty of care and lifestyle tips that can improve your anxious dog’s well-being.
Calming Shampoo for Dogs
If you’ve ever noticed the scent of a shampoo sticking around for a day or two after washing, you’ll understand how a calming shampoo might help your anxious dog. Aromatherapy isn’t just a thing for people; dogs can also benefit from the effects of essential oils and other aromatic compounds, and washing their skin and fur with a shampoo or body wash is a great place to start.
At-Home Tips for Reducing your Dog’s Anxiety
You can reduce or even avoid your dog’s anxiety attack symptoms with a few important adjustments to your lifestyle and home environment.
Use physical touch
Sometimes, all your dog needs is to know that you’re there. Not unlike humans, dogs can find comfort in the presence of a loved one. Gentle pets, ear scratches, snuggles, or a seat on your lap (not you, Great Danes!) can go a long way in calming a dog’s anxieties.
Ask about a pheromone treatment
Have you ever been curious about your dogs’ senses? Dogs can sense pheromones, a chemical compound secreted by many of the creatures living on Earth–dogs and humans included. Pheromones can dictate your dog’s behavior in social situations and even help to reduce stress or anxiety, making pheromones a unique treatment option (prescribed by your vet).
Have them wear compression clothes
If your dog will let you dress them, why not try a compression shirt or vest? Sometimes known as thunder vests, these dog clothing items are designed to work similarly to a weighted blanket or a baby swaddle. The feeling of being swaddled or secured can be soothing, especially for smaller dogs with anxiety.
Avoid (or prepare them for) stressful situations
This one might seem obvious, we admit–but when it comes to dog anxiety, there’s something to be said for prevention and preparedness. Here are a few examples of compromise that can protect your pet’s well-being:
If you can get a friend to watch your noise-sensitive dog while you go to a parade, do that instead of forcing them to come along.
If your dog gets anxious around people, consider planning social events somewhere else, or keep your dog comfortable in a separate room.
If your dog gets nervous while traveling, talk to your vet about dog anxiety medications that can keep them comfortable to make the trip less stressful for you both.
Wondering how to treat separation anxiety in dogs? It’s one of the most common causes of dog anxiety, and is often preventable. If you’re on the market for a new dog, consider your lifestyle before making a decision. For example, if you travel a lot or work long hours, seek out dog breeds with low separation anxiety. You don’t want to set yourself (or a dog) up for more stress!
Contacting Your Vet if Anxiety Problems Persist
Moments of situational anxiety can be unavoidable, but ultimately, you want to prevent stressors from affecting your pet whenever possible. If your pet has been living with anxiety for a long time, their physical health will start to suffer. So when to call the vet for dog anxiety?
If you’re worried about your pet’s quality of life–or YOU are struggling with the effects of their anxiety–it’s time to call your vet. They might give you some tips for reducing your dog’s anxiety, or advice on coping mechanisms for you both. In cases of chronic anxiety–dogs with what’s considered “general anxiety”–your vet might also prescribe anti-anxiety meds for dogs like Trazodone or Zoloft (with a special dog-friendly dosage, of course).
When giving your dog anxiety medication, be sure to follow the directions from your veterinarian or vet pharmacist exactly to prevent unpleasant side effects. Your vet may also talk to you about an adjustment period for dog anti-anxiety medications–if they don’t, be sure to ask what to expect once your dog begins taking their medication.
With a supply of tips and tools–and a big side of love and patience–you should be well-equipped to help your dog deal with anxiety and in turn, help them thrive!
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