Anxiety in dogs can be a serious problem. While fear and anxiety is an emotion crucial for the survival of an animal in nature, chronic canine anxiety in pets can be disruptive to their quality of life and even be dangerous to their health and well being.
Anxiety in pets is not uncommon. If your pet is suffering, you are not alone. According to the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 28% of canines suffer from some form of anxiety. This disruptive disorder can be caused by many factors. The most common causes of anxiety include:
- Separation anxiety
- Noise sensitivity (fireworks, gun shots, thunder)
In a study of 3284 dogs of 192 different breeds, the prevalence estimate for noise anxiety was 39.2 %, 26.2% for general fearfulness, and 17.2% for separation anxiety.
Less common forms of anxiety included:
- Meeting new pets
- Meeting new people
- Going to new places
- Going to unpleasant places
- Noise sensitivity (sirens, vacuums, leaf blowers, trains, etc)
Fear is typically different than anxiety because it is an emotion that is usually triggered by something and then it passes when the cause leaves. Anxiety is a frequent emotion that the pet suffers with chronically. For example, walking on a new shiny floor, a loud thunderstorm, or fireworks may trigger fear in a pet but the dog gets over it and moves on once the storm passes or they get used to the new floor. However, dogs can also suffer from anxiety triggers, meaning they only have anxiety during a thunderstorm because they are scared.
Symptoms of anxiety include:
- Refuses eye contact
- Desire to escape from the situation
- Sticks close to the owner
- Low tail, tail between the legs
- Walks low
- Freezes, doesn’t explore new environment
- Barks, growls
- Over-grooming, self injuries licking
- Salivating, drooling
- Urinates, defecates
- Destroys things
Although the causes of anxiety can be many, there are things you can do to help prevent a dog from developing an anxiety disorder. Some of these things include providing high quality of maternal care (not taking a pup from its mother when it’s too young-before 60 days), providing a nurturing environment that includes good nutrition and exercise, providing a stable household and routine, exposure to sights and sounds from a young age, and socialization.
Help for Anxiety
There is not a one size fits all solution for anxiety so talking to your vet or a canine behaviorist can be helpful. Some things that may help anxiety may include:
- Adding a second dog to the house may help calm and reassure a dog with separation anxiety to cope when their owner leaves the house.
- Creating a safe space or crating an anxious dog may help temporarily reduce the anxious and destructive behavior in some, but not in all dogs. A safe space is helpful for many reasons and all dogs should have a place of retreat.
- Diffusing dog appeasing pheromones using an eclectic diffuser has been found to reduce anxiety related behavior. This is not referring to essential oils. Look at products such as Adaptil Calm, Sentry, Pet Remedy, and ThunderEase, which mimic natural soothing pheromones.
- CBD oil can help maintain homeostasis and reduce anxiety in dogs. Research shows that it works by interacting with the body’s naturally occurring endocannabinoid system to soothe and calm anxious behavior. Always look for a THC free high quality, water soluble, hemp oil in capsules, treats, or oil. Find a company that batch tests and guarantees their oils for purity.
- Healthy food and supplements can also help calm anxiety by improving overall health. This will obviously depend on the dog but some common supplements include probiotics, digestive enzymes, and omega 3’s. According to Veterinary Practice News, L-theanine (an amino acid found naturally in green tea and mushroom, has been shown to help cats and dogs deal with separation anxiety and environmental stressors) and colostrum (calming milk supplement that can reduce anxious behavior) can help.
- Get behavior advice from a professional to help. If your dog engages in anxious behavior while you’re away, it can be helpful to video record the dog’s behavior and actions and show them to a vet, behaviorist, or trainer.
- Remove the dog from what they fear then start systematic desensitization (expose the dog small, mild versions of what they fear from a distance to help them overcome their fears and then gradually increase the exposure). The trick is to keep the initial exposures below their fear threshold so that their anxiety will not be triggered.
- Counter-conditioning is another way to desensitize a dog. In other words, try to change the way your pet perceives what they fear. Scared of the vet? Bring treats and their favorite toy to the next visit. A storm is brewing? At the first sign play your dog’s favorite game to create a distraction from their fear. Reassure and praise your dog for calm behavior. You will not reinforce their fear or create more fear by being calming and helping them to feel safe, as long as you are also calm and confident.
- Medication, your vet can prescribe medication to help calm extreme or temporary cases of anxiety. Some people have an aversion to medication but in some cases its helpful, can protect a dog from hurting themselves, or even prevent unnecessary euthanasia.
- Never punish a dog for anxious behavior. Anxiety, stress, and fear are not “bad” behaviors that can be corrected out of a dog. Punishments and harsh corrections can create more fear and aggression and create a cycle of anxiety. Fun distractions, such as treats and toys, to take their attention off the trigger and getting to the bottom of their troubles is far more helpful.
Please share these helpful tips that will help put an end to dog anxiety.