Does My Dog Have Anxiety?

Someone with anxiety can understand how difficult it is to navigate through the day when feeling anxious. Sadly, it is just as uncomfortable for dogs.

Animals in the midst of an anxiety attack may suddenly engage in destructive behavior that is harmful to them or others. This is a serious condition that requires professional intervention. Knowing what anxiety looks like in dogs and which signs to watch for is crucial for their well-being.

If you suspect your pup might be suffering from anxiety, you’ve come to the right place. This blog covers the causes and concerns attached to anxiety in dogs and the various ways you can help your pup.

What is Anxiety in Dogs?

While this term is used as an umbrella term, in reality, many complexities define this condition. According to veterinary behaviorists, anxiety manifests in two forms; situational anxiety and generalized anxiety.

Situational Anxiety: This happens under certain circumstances and is triggered by an event. For example, your dog’s destructive behavior when left alone for too long, could be caused by your absence. This would then be known as separation anxiety.

Another instance would be when your puppy cowers away or shakes around strangers. In this case, your dog suffers from social anxiety.

Luckily, there are various ways to manage situational anxiety, and we will expand on those further in this blog.

Generalized Anxiety: This form of anxiety, also known as chronic anxiety, can occur anytime and doesn’t need a trigger. As generalized anxiety progresses, it disrupts your dog’s mental and physical health. Getting a dog behaviorist involved is necessary.

Knowing the difference between fear and anxiety is very important. While they are often used interchangeably, these two terms are separate emotional states. Fear is an emotion triggered by an event, such as by loud noises from fireworks, and on the other hand, anxiety develops when your dog gets worked up about possible threats to the point that it becomes excessive.

Another concept commonly confused with anxiety is phobia. To address your dog’s behavioral issues, knowing the subtle distinctions between anxiety, fear, and phobia is important so you can help your dog accordingly.

What is the Difference Between Anxiety, Fear, and Phobia?

In the event of an external threat, your dog’s brain goes into freeze, fight, or flight mode. The threat could be perceived or real, triggering an emotional response – fear. It can be remedied through training and counter-conditioning. For example, gradually exposing your dog to the fear stimulus can help your puppy become desensitized. You can reach out to a professional trainer for guidance and support.

Phobias are often mistaken as anxiety because they exist as persistent and profound fear in response to a particular situation. The repetition or even memory of that specific event can trigger your dog. The most common phobia in canines is noise, such as thunderstorms and fireworks. This can easily be prevented or controlled by removing your dog from the situation where the stimulus is present or through consistent training.

Anxiety differs from the two as it relates to perceived or future threats and manifests in extreme behavior. This can be seriously distressing for your puppy and requires veterinary intervention. The most prevalent type of anxiety in dogs is separation anxiety.

Anxiety can be determined through various behaviors depending on the severity of your dog’s condition. Below, we have listed some of the most common signs.

How Do I Identify the Signs of Anxiety?

Caring for your distressed puppy is key to having a happy and healthy pet. If your dog is behaving unusually, it could be due to anxiety. Knowing which signs to look for can help you determine the intensity of your canine’s condition and seek timely veterinarian help.

The following behavior can help you identify signs of anxiety in your dog. These can range from mild to excessive, including cases of separation or social anxiety:

  • Hiding
  • Stiffness
  • Panting
  • Extreme drooling
  • Shaking or shivering
  • Becoming unresponsive
  • Cowering
  • Hypervigilance and hyperactivity
  • Destructive behaviors like aggressive chewing or destroying household items
  • Excessive barking
  • Eliminating
  • Pacing
  • Sympathetic autonomic nervous system activity, including diarrhea
  • Injury due to self-mutilating behaviors
  • Excessive tail-chasing and circling

Not all dogs will behave similarly when under stress. Behaviors are influenced by your dog’s temperament and past experiences. Pay attention to their body language and see if they exhibit any of the signs mentioned above.

To help your pet, you need to keep an eye out for the frequency of the behavior. This will allow you to determine if your dog feels anxious under specific situations or suffers from chronic anxiety.

It is important to note that Punishing your dog for ‘bad behavior’ during an episode can worsen its mental health.

What are the Causes of Anxiety?

There could be multiple reasons your pet suffers from anxiety, such as painful past experiences, health conditions, or socialization issues. Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of anxiety in dogs:

  • Traumatic past: Some dogs, especially rescues, tend to have an abusive past causing them to anticipate punishment or injury, especially around new people or animals.
  • Unpredictable routines: Too much commotion or unpredictability around your dog’s everyday life at home can lead them to develop a fear of the unknown and, consequently, social anxiety.
  • Lack of socialization. Dogs raised in isolation or not socialized properly also tend to have social anxiety.
  • Age-related diseases: A dog may get Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) with old age. It leads to confusion and over-stimulation in social settings, leading to anxiety.
  • Health concerns: Many ailments like hormonal imbalances or gum disease can make your dog apprehensive of social conditions and lead to fear or anxiety. Brain, thyroid, and adrenal diseases can also cause anxiety. This can be identified through blood tests. 
  • Genetics: Some dogs are more prone to developing anxiety due to genetics.

If you’re concerned about your pet’s health but unsure of the trigger or need clarity on whether your dog is experiencing fear or anxiety or has a phobia, reach out to our licensed vet on the PetMyPal [1] app. With this service, you can virtually chat with a vet and get expert advice tailored to your pet’s needs from the comfort of your home. This is a great tool for seeking timely advice for non-emergency cases.

How Can I Manage My Dog’s Anxiety?

Knowing your dog’s history, personality, and health conditions can help you understand why your dog is showing signs of anxiety. Fortunately, there are several ways you can manage your dog’s anxiety. Let’s get started on tips for preventing and treating anxiety in dogs.

Prevention

  • You can minimize the possibility of your puppy developing anxiety by socializing it as early as possible. Going for walks in the park and introducing it to other people and animals can help.
  • Desensitization/ Exposure therapy can help. Expose your dog to the hustle and bustle of city life! This will acclimatize your dog to loud vehicles and noises, preventing your dog from having situational anxiety. You can also use desensitization to reduce separation anxiety in your furry pooch.
  • Get plushies or chew toys for your dog to help in distress or when alone. This will greatly influence their behavior in your absence.

Treatment

In severe cases, your pet’s veterinary behaviorist may prescribe medications to help ease your dog’s symptoms alongside behavioral modification training. 

  • As guided by your pet’s behaviorist, behavioral training and exercises can help treat anxiety and fear in dogs. For milder cases, medication may not be needed.
  • Managing your dog’s surroundings can assist in reducing and even eliminating anxiety. While you can’t always control external factors, creating a safe space within your home and removing the source of anxiety can help your dog. Your dog’s safe space can be a crate or a dog-proof, fenced yard.

There is no one certain answer to helping your dog with anxiety. What works for one dog may not suit the other. For example, some dogs can become more anxious if confined in a crate, while others feel safe and relaxed. Knowing the context can help you prevent and treat your dog’s anxiety. Observing what triggers panic, how often it happens, and which method is most effective in reducing anxiety can successfully treat your furry friend.

Anxiety can lead to mental health issues due to constant stress and destructive behaviors if left untreated. Seeking help from your veterinarian and dog behavior specialists can help you manage or even completely cure anxiety in some cases. Make sure you socialize your puppy well and follow the guidelines set by your canine’s veterinarian and behaviorist to have a healthy and happy dog!

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