Dog Anxiety: What Is It?

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Can dogs have anxiety? Like humans, dogs can experience anxiety. Anxiety is something that all dogs will typically exhibit at various times in their life. Dog anxiety can affect all breeds, but it can affect each dog differently. But dogs can develop anxiety disorders if an unbalanced level of anxiety is not controlled. If left untreated, the dog’s anxiety can cause behavioral and health problems.

Here you will find everything you need to know about common causes, symptoms, and treatments for dog anxiety.

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Dog Anxiety: Causes

There are several causes and types of anxiety in dogs. The most common causes and forms of anxiety include:

Fear

Fear-related anxiety can be due to loud noises, being around strange people or animals, visual stimuli such as hats or umbrellas, being around strange or new environments, certain situations such as veterinarians’ offices or car rides, or a new surface, such as grass or a wooden floor. Some dogs may respond only briefly to these types of stimuli, but some dogs will develop severe anxiety.

Separation Anxiety

20 to 40 percent of dogs that go to veterinary behavioral specialists for anxiety suffer from this disorder. Dogs with separation anxiety cannot find comfort, when they are alone or separated from the family. Separation anxiety is manifested in undesirable behaviors, such as urinating and defecating at home, destroying furniture, and barking.

Age

Age-related anxiety affects older dogs and may be associated with cognitive impairment syndrome (CDS). In dogs with CDS, memory, learning, perception, and awareness begin to decline, similar to the early stages of human Alzheimer’s disease. This naturally leads to confusion and anxiety in older dogs.

Symptoms: Does My Dog Have Anxiety?

Some of these symptoms can result from occasional anxiety episodes, but any one of them can come back and cause more serious problems. Although the most dangerous symptom of dog anxiety is aggression. Dog attacks can be considered direct or indirect, depending on the circumstances.

Direct attacks occur when a dog behaves aggressively towards people or other animals. Indirect attacks can be just as dangerous and usually occurs when a person approaches the source of a dog’s attack, such as dogfighting with another dog. Even if the dog is prevented from hurting others, aggressive behaviors such as howling and barking can lead to undesirable situations for humans and dogs.

Urinating and defecating at home are common symptoms of anxiety. Anxious dogs often urinate or defecate at home, even if they are housebroken. This is frustrating for the owner and can cause damage to the property.

Destructive behavior is also common in anxiety. Damage usually occurs around doors and windows, but dogs with increased anxiety may also be at risk of injuring themselves. Their attempts to get out of their crate, windows, and even doors can lead to serious injuries and expensive veterinary care.

brown and black dog under a sheet with text that reads dog anxiety

Dog Anxiety: Treatment

The best way to treat anxiety is to speak to a veterinarian. Your vet can help you identify possible causes and triggers for the type of anxiety your dog suffers. Veterinarians can also help determine whether anxiety is purely situational or a more serious and chronic situation. Also, veterinarians can rule out other medical conditions that may be causing the dog’s symptoms.

Your vet will help you make a treatment plan.

Excessive anxiety is usually caused by several factors; therefore, the best way to treat it is usually through a combination of training, preventive strategies, and sometimes drug therapy.

Training and Counter-Conditioning

There are several training strategies that owners can use to treat dog anxiety. One way is counter-conditioning. The purpose of counter-conditioning is to alter a dog’s response to stimuli that cause anxiety, usually by replacing anxiety or aggressive behavior with more desirable behaviors, such as sitting or focusing on the owner.

Another training strategy is desensitization. The owner will slowly, over a period of time, introduce the dog to the cause of the anxiety, preferably in small quantities, with reduced strength. Repeated exposure and rewarding positive behaviors can be very helpful in controlling anxiety.

Anti-anxiety medications

If your dog develops a serious anxiety disorder, your veterinarian may recommend medications or natural remedies. SSRIs and antidepressants are sometimes prescribed for anxious dogs, such as fluoxetine and clomipramine. In the case of a predictable type of anxiety event, such as a storm, fireworks, or a road trip, veterinarians can prescribe medications such as benzodiazepines in combination with antidepressants to help dogs cope with stress.

Use of CBD oil for dog anxiety

Some dog owners have reported the successful use of CBD oil to treat dog anxiety. CBD, a compound found in marijuana and hemp, has been found useful in treating a variety of health conditions, not only for dog owners but also for humans. Case reports from dog owners claim that CBD oil is effective in treating anxiety in dogs.

However, although many people use CBD oil to treat anxiety, there is currently no scientific data on how the use of CBD oil affects dogs. Also, CBD products are not yet regulated and consistency and purity are not always checked. Therefore, if you are thinking of using CBD oil as a remedy for dog anxiety, it is recommended that you consult your veterinarian. Veterinarians can determine whether CBD oil is the right treatment for dog anxiety and analyze a variety of products, possible side effects, and risks.

Behavioral Therapy

If your dog’s anxiety is bad enough, your vet may feel that behavioral therapy would be a good treatment option for your dog. Behavioral Therapists are experts in treating anxiety and can offer options and therapy that your veterinarian cannot.

Alternatively, some vets are also Board-Certified Veterinary Behaviorists, so this is an option as well. The advantage of your vet also specializing in behavioral therapy is that they can provide the most appropriate medication to go along with the therapy to assist in the best outcome possible for your dog.

Conclusion:

Like humans, many dogs experience anxiety at some point in their lives. Although not all dogs’ causes of anxiety disorders can be diagnosed, it is important to know the causes, symptoms, and treatment options associated with the dog’s anxiety. Understanding these important aspects will help owners learn the best ways to help dogs in situations that cause anxiety. If you think your dog has anxiety problems, it is a good idea to speak to your veterinarian. The veterinarian will help you diagnose your dog, rule out other health problems, and develop a treatment plan that is ideal for your dog and lifestyle.

FAQS:

Question: What are some common signs of anxiety in dogs?

Answer:

  • Pacing
  • Trembling
  • Shaking
  • Hypervigilance
  • Lip licking
  • Frequent yawning
  • Decreased appetite

Question: Can I give my dog Melatonin for anxiety?

Answer:

Melatonin has shown to help reduce mild anxiety in dogs.

** Always consult with your veterinarian before giving your dog any type of medication or supplement.

As a general guideline, melatonin dosage (up to 3x daily) can be given as follows:

  • Dogs less than 10 lbs should be given 1 mg
  • Dogs weighing 10-25 lbs should be given 1.5 mg
  • Dogs weighing 26-100 lbs should be given 3 mg
  • Dogs weighing over 100 lbs should be given 3-6 mg

Always check the label before giving your dog melatonin to be sure that it does not contact xylitol. Xylitol is toxic to dogs!

Melatonin should start to work within 15 minutes and will last about 8 hours.

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