Pets and people all go through their fair share of health-related ups and downs. Although there are plenty of health risks that pet parents must be aware of when it comes to their fur baby’s breed specifics, another issue that needs to be addressed for all caretakers of canines is when pups and dogs of any age experience strange and concerning behavioral changes indicative of anxiety.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about anxiety in dogs.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a symptom of stress and can be caused by a number of different factors and situations. It’s a perfectly normal part of life for both people and pets, but when anxiety becomes a far too frequent visitor, it’s time to consult a doctor or veterinarian to help manage its effects.
Anxiety can best be described as excessive nervousness or feelings of fear, mental discomfort, and even overstimulation in some cases. When it comes to our canine companions, there are quite a few common causes for anxiety in dogs as well as some recognizable symptoms to help you determine when your furry buddy is dealing with this health concern.
How to Spot Anxiety in Your Dog
Anxiety has multiple symptoms you can keep an eye out for when trying to figure out if this is what’s bothering your pup.
- Urinating or defecating indoors (especially if they’re house-trained)
- Destructive behaviors
- Barking excessively
- Drooling (more than usual)
- Panting (when it typically would not make sense to be doing so)
- Depressed behavior
- Aggressive behavior
- Repetitive behaviors
- Behaviors that appear to be compulsive
If your dog is exhibiting any number of these behaviors, it may be time to evaluate your pup’s environment and surroundings, exercise habits and whether their energy expending needs are being met, and other aspects of your home and your dog’s daily life to determine what may be causing your fur baby distress. At the end of the day, it’s also wise to consult your veterinarian when your dog is struggling with more than one symptom of anxiety or if its primary mode of communicating such anxious feelings is through displays of aggression.
The Different Types of Anxiety in Dogs
When it comes to anxiety in dogs, there are also multiple types that they may experience, and these can be dependent upon a number of different factors. Some may be attributed to a dog’s breed, some may be environmentally triggered, and some can even stem from previous experiences that cause them to struggle with their emotions moving forward.
Separation anxiety is one of the most common types of anxiety found in most dogs. It stems from a dog’s inability to handle being left alone for periods of time or cope with being away from who they’ve chosen to be their family members.
This is often the case with dogs known for excessive barking while their pet parents are away, and many dogs that struggle with this issue are also likely to urinate or defecate within the home when left to their own devices, even when they’re fully house-trained and otherwise have no accidents on a regular basis.
Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety are also those most likely to engage in destructive behaviors while their family members are away, such as destroying furniture, digging in the trash and strewing it about the home, or even tearing up shoes or toys that have been left out. Crate training may help prevent some of these behaviors from destroying your home while you’re away for work or an appointment, but it will not alleviate the source of the problem itself.
Generalized anxiety is a form that is not specifically related to one particular stressor, situation, or other specific cause. When a dog is struggling with generalized anxiety, it may exhibit any number of anxiety symptoms, but these displays will remain rather constant regardless of its environment or any changes around the pup.
If your canine companion displays symptoms of anxiety no matter where you are, what the weather is, who you’re around, or what’s going on, it’s likely that your dog is experiencing generalized anxiety and will need to receive appropriate treatment for this issue from an experienced veterinarian. This is especially true if your dog is exhibiting anxiety symptoms even when in the comfort of its primary home and is surrounded by its family with no reason for there to be any distress whatsoever.
Dogs can experience chemical imbalances just as humans do, and this is often a cause of canine generalized anxiety disorder. However, many times a dog will struggle with generalized anxiety if it has previously experienced recurring bouts of homelessness, abuse, or other traumatic living conditions before finding its forever home.
A dog’s environment can have any number of things that may contribute to them experiencing anxiety. It’s well known that dogs are sensitive to sounds, and sometimes this can be a cause of anxiety for them, too. Many dogs are afraid of loud noises like fireworks, vacuum cleaners, and even thunderstorms. These are perfectly normal fears and very common. However, some dogs may be more sensitive to the emotional effects caused by hearing such abrasive sounds and will experience symptoms of anxiety that may not immediately pass once the sound has disappeared.
Some other common environmental fears that may evoke symptoms of anxiety in dogs include going to the veterinarian’s office, being in the car while going through a car wash, figuring out mirrors and glass doors for the first time, and other similar experiences that may be difficult to figure out or cause a pup to recall a previous unpleasant interaction—it shouldn’t be a surprise when they eventually conclude that arriving at the veterinarian’s office may mean they might be getting another shot again!
Socialization is such an important part of raising a dog, and it’s something that should be started as soon as possible while your companion is still a puppy. Socialization encourages a dog to have healthy relationships with the world around him or her, helping them to learn friendly and appropriate behaviors when exposed to a variety of people, animals, and new situations.
For dogs that were not socialized early in life or who may simply not do well in social situations, going out can become a very stressful ordeal. For dogs that are fearful of unfamiliar faces, places, or animals, going for a walk or going out in public may be likely to cause symptoms of anxiety to appear. They may bark excessively, cower or try to hide, or even display aggression in situations they haven’t been exposed to previously.
Starting as early as possible with socialization is essential when it comes to helping your dog avoid social anxiety and distress for the rest of their lives.
As our furry companions get older, there is guaranteed to be some cognitive decline as they age. When older dogs being to have trouble with their overall cognitive functions, anxiety can also come into play alongside the other unfortunate side effects of this natural occurrence. As a dog’s cognitive abilities decline, they will often experience confusion, a reversal of their house-training in which they begin to have more accidents, and they may also begin to struggle with memory and general awareness.
Due to their inability to maintain their previous training, recognize their surroundings as well, or even fully grasp what all is occurring around them as their mind begins to wane, this can prove to be quite stressful for the elderly dog and lead to symptoms of anxiety for very clear reasons. When this is the cause of a dog’s anxiety, the best course of action is to make their daily lives as accommodating and as comfortable as possible to ease their stress levels as they struggle along in old age.
What If I Can’t Tell What’s Causing My Dog Anxiety?
If you’re having trouble pinpointing what exactly is causing your dog’s anxiety, your best bet is to consult with a trusted veterinarian or even a canine behavioral specialist. However, while you’re waiting for your appointment day to arrive, you can also try to narrow down your dog’s potential triggers for anxiety by making note of his or her symptoms, when they are occurring, where they are occurring, and what is going on at the time. Even if this doesn’t fully shed light on the cause of your companion’s stress, these notes can also be very useful for the vet and/or behavioral specialist when you finally get to see them regarding your dog’s behavioral concerns.
Treating Your Dog’s Anxiety
One of the primary treatment methods for dogs experiencing chronic or severe anxiety is an anti-anxiety medication. Depending upon the dog’s breed, age, and behavioral issues, a veterinarian may prescribe an anti-depressant (such as an SSRI or SNRI) for more extended use or any of the dog-safe benzodiazepines available for use in short-term situations, such as an impending road trip that may cause them severe anxiety.
For dogs that begin medication regimens, as well as for fur babies who may not need to resort to the use of such medications, it’s crucial that pet parents make any necessary changes to reduce stressors in their pup’s daily life. Often, training methods will need to be modified to accommodate the dog’s sensitivity to correction or stressful decision-making situations. Additionally, it’s important to make modifications within the home as well to reduce opportunities for destruction, damage, or other negative behaviors associated with an anxious canine.
Providing your dog with as much peace and stability as possible is the ultimate goal in helping reduce their stress levels and preventing anxiety and anxious behaviors in response to such. However, with each dog being an individual, the changes that will need to be made to help your particular dog will vary compared to some of the things that help alleviate stress for other pups.
Always consult your veterinarian for guidance on how to best handle managing your dog’s anxiety. It may also be worth it to consider consulting with a canine behavioral specialist in some cases, that will be able to provide you with suggestions or even personally assist in helping your dog adjust in the presence of certain stimuli.
How to Prevent Anxiety in Dogs
Sadly, there is no way to 100% prevent our canine companions from ever experiencing any sort of anxiety, but there are still quite a few measures we can take as pet parents to help reduce those chances as much as possible.
One of the most important factors in ensuring our pets are as healthy as possible is staying on top of their physical health needs, such as providing them with the best possible diet and staying up to date with all necessary vaccinations, preventative medications, and regular vet checkups. Letting your fur baby’s physical health slip can easily contribute to an increased likelihood of them experiencing psychological changes due to untreated pain, illness, and other concerns.
Additionally, one of the best ways to promote optimum mental stability in our canine companions is to provide them with consistency. The best way to give your pet a sense of stability is by providing them with a clear routine so they know what to expect when it comes to waking up, feeding times, cues for going on a walk, and when it’s time to head to bed for the evening.
When your dog knows what time you should be coming home from work each day, they will oftentimes be less likely to become fearful that you’re “gone forever.” Knowing what to expect from their pet parent and fellow family members gives them a sense of security in their home environment and lowers their overall stress levels that may have once been causing quite a bit of anxiety due to inconsistencies in what was going on around them.
Our canine companions’ mental health is just as important as their physical health, and our pups showing signs of anxiety is something to take seriously when it happens. There are a number of different causes of anxiety in dogs, and you may need the help of a behavioral specialist or your trusted veterinarian to narrow down the primary stressor in your dog’s life. Some of the great options just a short drive away from our county include Paw Canine, The Dog Wizard, and Veterinary Behavior Solutions.
If your fur baby is showing signs of anxiety though, don’t worry! Treatment is available, and there are many things you can do on your own as well to help provide them with calmer and stability to help alleviate some of their troubles. If you need a good starting point for finding help for your dog’s anxiety problems, be sure to check out some of our local veterinary clinics right here in Brevard County.
Melanie is the owner and founder of Brevard’s premier trusted in-home pet care company. With a Sociology & Criminal Justice degree from the University of Tennessee, she took her corporate security background and combined it with her lifelong passion for animals – that’s how Space Coast Pet Services was born in 2016! She is certified in Pet First Aid & CPR, insured, and proudly completed a full background check successfully. She is committed to ongoing training and education for herself and her team. To learn more, click here.
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