However, it’s easy to forget that another member of your family might also have anxiety: your dog.
That's right — dog anxiety is relatively common. Several types of anxiety can affect all sorts of dogs, regardless of age, breed, or size.
Anxiety in dogs can run the gamut from minor cases to severe, debilitating anxiety. How to respond to your dog's anxiety in a healthy way will depend on what's causing the problem and what kind of signs and symptoms your dog is exhibiting. Luckily, with the help of your veterinarian, you can better manage your dog's anxiety.
Let's take a closer look at what causes anxiety in dogs and what it looks like. Then, we'll discover how to treat dog anxiety and prevent it in the first place.
Causes of Dog Anxiety
Most cases of anxiety in dogs are brought on by some kind of change in a dog’s environment or routine. To understand this better, it helps to look at the types of anxiety that dogs might experience.
- Separation anxiety occurs when a dog becomes stressed when they're left alone, or when they're separated from human family members. This type of anxiety affects about 14% of dogs.
- Environmental anxiety is caused by something in your dog's environment, like a loud noise they’re frightened of (thunderstorms, car horns, construction noises, etc.), or a stressful event like a trip to the vet's office. Some dogs may experience anxiety because of changes in the home, like rearrangement of furniture in the living room or a new decoration in the corner.
- Social anxiety means your dog gets anxious when they're around other dogs, or people. This could occur if your dog was never socialized properly, or if they come from a traumatic background like a difficult shelter environment or a crowded, poorly maintained breeder’s facility.
- Age-based anxiety affects older dogs and is often associated with canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD). Essentially dog dementia, or CCD, causes your dog to become anxious as they become more and more disoriented, perhaps forgetting the layout of their home or who their human family members are.
Signs of Anxiety in Dogs
Regardless of the type of anxiety that's affecting your dog, you'll want to know what signs to watch out for. Most of it has to do with your pet's body language. Common signs of anxiety in dogs include:
- Restlessness (pacing, wandering, lying down and getting up repeatedly)
- Excessive barking and whining
- Constant or excessive panting/drooling
- Urination or defecation in the house (common with separation anxiety)
- Destructive behavior (also common with separation anxiety)
- Aggression (growling, lunging, or biting at human family members or other pets)
- Compulsive or repetitive behaviors (circling, licking the air, licking themselves, etc.)
Have you noticed these symptoms in your dog, perhaps repeatedly? Since some of these symptoms can be caused by other medical conditions, take your dog to the vet when you spot these recurring symptoms. Your veterinarian can see whether or not your dog might have an anxiety issue and give you advice on what to do next.
Treating Your Dog's Anxiety
There are a few ways to deal with dog anxiety, but different strategies are effective for different dogs and situations. That's why working with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist or dog trainer is so important.
Some of the common methods for treating dog anxiety include:
For minor cases of anxiety, particularly fear-based or environmental anxiety, you might be able to distract your dog from their stressor so it doesn’t trigger as strong of a response. (This method usually works especially well with puppies.)
For instance, if you know a thunderstorm is rolling in, fill a puzzle toy with peanut butter and give it to your dog. Or, work on basic commands while that other dog passes by on the street. Simply directing your pet's attention elsewhere might be enough to avoid anxious behavior.
For a tasty treat that your dog won't gobble down instantly, try Native Pet's all-natural Yak Chews. These protein-packed hard cheese chews are longer-lasting than your average chew, and they're easily digestible and won't splinter apart.
Desensitization is a form of behavior modification that involves exposing your dog to small doses of the stimuli that cause anxiety, and then increasing the intensity or frequency of those stimuli.
Take thunderstorm anxiety as an example. Dog owners might play a recording of thunder at a low volume a few times a day. Over time, the volume and frequency of those recordings gets increased. This acclimates your dog to the noise and helps them get over their phobia.
Or, if your dog has separation anxiety, your dog might be triggered by stimuli like the jingling of keys or taking suitcases out of the closets. Try doing these activities when you're not leaving the house. This gets your dog used to the idea that those specific triggers don’t always relate to a worrying situation.
Make sure to work closely with your veterinarian or an animal trainer before attempting desensitization on your own — you don't want to terrify your dog by accident. And ask about other storm anxiety treatments like thundershirts, which can help many dogs.
Counterconditioning means training your dog to view their stressors as more positive than negative, or at least as something that your dog doesn’t mind. The idea is to change your dog's behavior response to the stimuli.
Counterconditioning might involve rewarding your dog with a treat or toy when a specific trigger happens; giving a treat every time a thunderclap occurs, for example. Some dogs might not be receptive to this method, though. As with any dog behavior problem, it's wise to work with your vet or a professional trainer on a counterconditioning regimen to make sure it works correctly.
In the most severe anxiety cases, including those related to canine cognitive dysfunction, prescription medication like anti-anxiety medication or antidepressants might be needed. (Depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand for our dogs, just like they do in humans.)
Dogs who experience anxiety on a regular basis might take medication regularly to moderate their mood. When the anxiety relates to a predictable situation (thunderstorms or car rides, for example), you might give your dog medication before the event.
Additionally, natural solutions like pheromones and aromatherapy have shown progress in dogs with anxiety. Supplements are another great option.
For various levels of dog anxiety, try Native Pet's Calm Chicken Chews, which help to reduce general anxiety, improve sleep, and relax muscles with natural ingredients like melatonin and L-theanine. Melatonin in particular has been found to help reduce anxiety and help dogs sleep, and it’s perfectly safe for our canine friends.
How Pet Parents Can Help Manage Dog Anxiety
Plenty of our canine friends suffer from anxiety, whether it's separation anxiety, environmental or situational anxiety based in fear, social anxiety, or anxiety related to aging and cognitive decline.
When you see symptoms like restlessness, excessive barking and whining, house-soiling, destructive behavior, or aggression, it's time to call the vet's office. After ruling out possible medical causes of these symptoms, your vet can help you and your dog better manage the pet’s anxiety.
You might be able to distract your dog from smaller anxiety triggers, especially for puppies. Otherwise, techniques like desensitization and counterconditioning can help to soothe your pet. For severe anxiety, anti-anxiety medicine might be in order. Your vet will advise you on these treatment methods, or refer you to a veterinary behaviorist or dog trainer for more help.
Would you like more insight into your dog's behavior, health, and wellness needs? Visit the Native Pet blog here.