Identifying and Treating Anxiety in Dogs
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, dread, or unease – oftentimes without any real cause or explanation. While primarily diagnosed in humans, animals can also experience anxiety and dogs are no exception.
It’s important to remember that dogs can develop anxieties at any point during their life. In fact, most dogs develop symptoms as they age. Some veterinarians believe this may be linked to the increased likelihood of phobias or fears (of noises, people, other dogs, etc.) developing later in life.
How to tell your dog experiences anxiety
Much like humans, anxiety in dogs can have many unique triggers. Let’s take a look at three of the most common sources of anxiety in dogs and the symptoms they display.
We’ll start with the most frequently encountered: separation anxiety. This occurs when your dog panics or becomes distressed when no longer in your presence or line of vision. Second most common is fear and noise-based anxiety. This is regularly seen in dogs who are afraid of storms, loud noises and fireworks. Lastly, guarding or resource protecting (of objects, food or people) can be a symptom of untreated anxiety.
In all instances the following symptoms can be clues that your dog is experiencing distress:
- Sudden aggression – particularly towards the owner or familiar guests
- Destructive behavior
If your dog begins acting abnormally and you feel as though he may be suffering from anxiety, rest assured that there are ways to relieve his symptoms.
How to treat a dog with anxiety
There is no one-size fits all when it comes to addressing anxiety in dogs. Taking the time to consult a veterinarian and understand your dog’s triggers can go a long way in developing an appropriate treatment plan.
- Training and safe spaces
Working with a trainer to address fear-based and separation anxieties can assist in setting boundaries for your dog. Boundaries establish “safe spaces” for your dog where he can go to relax and feel safe.
An example of this is training your dog to sit and stay in “place.” What “place” is can be defined by you but is typically a dog bed, crate or blanket where the dog learns to go and sit patiently. Eventually your dog will understand that this is a comforting, safe space and you will return.
- Compression vests
Products like the “thunder vest” are effective using compression. Like swaddling a baby or sleeping with a weighted blanket, compression vests apply gentle pressure to the body of the dog. This pressure acts as a hug that releases feel-good hormones in your dog, calming them.
You’d be shocked at what a good long walk or play session can do for your dog’s anxiety. In some cases, anxiety manifests when the dog has no outlet for their nervous energy. By going outside and getting your dog moving, you’re allowing him to release this energy which in turns means he has less energy to turn into anxiety. As a bonus, the mental stimulation from sniffing new environments can be enough to ease the effects of anxiety.
- Supplements and medication
Sometimes our dogs just need a little bit of extra help that training, vests and exercises can’t provide. After a consultation, a veterinarian may recommend supplements like thiamine and CBD or medications like fluoxetine (also known as Prozac) to help balance your dog internally.
Medication and supplements have been prescribed to dogs to treat anxiety for over 30 years. Work with your veterinarian to develop a dosage that works best for your dog and stick with the regimen for several months to determine if it’s working as intended.