Dogs, like humans, experience anxiety. Although unpleasant anxiety is a normal, healthy emotion. It is something that all dogs of all breeds feel. However, if excessive levels of anxiety are endured unchecked the dog may suffer an anxiety disorder which will lead to behavioral disorders.
How do you know if your dog is experiencing anxiety? What are the treatments? We hope to cover the common causes, symptoms, and treatments. We hope to give you the information to recognize anxiety from your dog and how to deal with it.
Merck Veterinary Manual states dog anxiety can have several causes. The most common causes are
Fear-related anxiety can be caused by a variety of stimuli. Loud noises, strange people or animals, strange environments like the vet’s office, or car rides. Some surfaces like grass, snow, or hard-wood floors can be stimuli for fear-based anxiety.
Separation anxiety is estimated to affect fourteen percent of dogs. Dogs with this anxiety are unable to find comfort when left alone. This anxiety demonstrates itself by undesirable behaviors such as urinating, defecating, and destroying household items such as furniture, doorways, furnishings and trim and baseboards to name a few.
Older dogs can suffer from age-related anxiety and is associated with cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). Much like the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, memory. Learning, perception, and awareness begin to decline. This leads to confusion and anxiety in older dogs.
How can you if your dog has anxiety? There are several symptoms to look for:
- Urinating and defecating in the house
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive Barking
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
Some of these can be the result of occasional anxiety-causing occurrences, but these behaviors can become repetitive and result in more serious issues. The most serious behavior of all these is aggression. This aggression can result in either direct or indirect aggression. Direct aggression is displayed when a dog acts aggressively towards a person or animal. Indirect aggression occurs when a person or animal comes between the dog and the source of aggression.
Common symptoms of separation anxiety are urinating and defecating in the house even when housebroken. Needless to say, this is frustrating for pet owners. Not only for the clean-up but the potential damage this can cause.
Destructive behavior is also a common behavior with separation anxiety. Centered around doorways and windows, the dog is in a heightened state of anxiety and is in danger of not only damaging your home but injuring themselves.
The best way to deal with and treat anxiety is to talk to your veterinarian. Your vet can help you identify the cause of the anxiety and determine if it is situational or becoming an overwhelming issue for your dog. They can help develop a treatment plan. Excessive anxiety is often caused by a variety of factors so your vet may recommend a treatment plan consisting of training, preventative strategies, and if needed, medications.
There are several strategies that can be used to treat anxiety. One is counterconditioning. The basic premise is to change the dog’s response to the stimuli responsible for anxiety responses. This anxiety is replaced with a more desirable behavior like focusing on the owner instead of indirect anxiety.
Desensitization is another strategy in which the owner brings the dog to the source of anxiety in small doses at a decreased intensity. Repeated exposure and rewards for positive behavior can help manage this anxiety. It may be appropriate to bring in a professional dog trainer to help guide you to the best training strategy for your dog.
If the anxiety disorder is serious, your vet may consider medications to help. SSRIs and antidepressants may be prescribed for dogs with anxiety. Fluoxetine and clomipramine are often prescribed, for predictable anxiety-producing events such as thunderstorms, fireworks, or car rides, benzodiazepine along with an antidepressant may be used to help with the stress.
Senior dogs with cognitive dysfunction syndrome may be prescribed selegiline, which may reduce the symptoms of CDS. Selegiline is used for chronic anxiety in Europe.
The Merck Veterinary Manual also recommends natural products and therapies for dogs with anxiety. Some work in conjunction with other medications while other products work best alone. Natural products use pheromones and aromatherapy to reduce anxiety.
CBD oil, a compound found in cannabis ad hemp, has been used with some success. Although humans use CBD oil for anxiety, there is no scientific data on how CBD affects dogs. Also, CBD is not regulated so consistency and purity cannot always be validated.
It is particularly challenging to predict what will cause anxiety in your dog. Even more so to determine what will develop into a more serious disorder. However, there are ways to guide your dog to try to avoid anxiety-related problems.
Reading your dog’s body language is the best way to know when your dog is scared or uncomfortable in a given situation and can help you avoid negative experiences or use it as a positive training experience.
Proper socialization can help prevent the development of anxiety. Introducing your dog to new people, places, dogs, animals, and experiences. This will help avoid severe anxiety down the road.
Obedience training is an important tool to manage and avoid anxiety. It develops a healthy relationship and lays a foundation for trust. A well-trained dog will socialize easier than a dog without training, and obedience classes are a good way for your dog to socialize with other dogs.
Regular exercise and stimulation are paramount for development, physical, and mental well-being. A dog that is appropriately stimulated is less likely to develop destructive behaviors. Good nutrition is also important for your dogs health and outlook. Being able to manage your dog’s physical and emotional needs can help prevent behavioral issues not stemming from anxiety, allowing you to know where your dog needs help.
If you are aware of your dog’s anxiety problems, you can try to head-off situations that trigger anxiety. If you know your dog is anxious around large groups of dogs, avoid dog parks. Avoidance does not mean you are giving up on your dog’s experiences, it can reduce some stress on you and your dog.
Like people, dogs will experience anxiety at some point. Not all dogs will have a diagnosable disorder, but it is important to know the causes, symptoms, and treatment involved with dog anxiety. Understanding this can help you know the best ways to help your dog in anxiety-producing situations. If you think your dog has an issue with anxiety, consult your veterinarian. Your dog can be diagnosed to rule out health issues and help develop a treatment plan for your dog and your lifestyle.