Like humans, dogs experience anxiety.
Although it is something that all dogs experience from time to time, if disproportionate levels of anxiety are not controlled, a dog can develop an anxiety disorder, leading to behavioral and health problems.
How do you know if your dog has anxiety? What can you do to treat dog anxiety?
Dog anxiety: 3 common causes
Fear: Fear-related anxiety can be caused by loud noises, strange people or animals, visual stimuli such as hats or umbrellas, new or strange environments, specific situations, such as the vet's office or car trips, or surfaces such as lawns. or wooden floors. Although some dogs may only have brief reactions to these types of stimuli, they can affect anxious dogs more consistently.
Separation: Separation anxiety is estimated to affect about 14 percent of dogs. Dogs with separation anxiety cannot find comfort when left alone or separated from family members. This anxiety often manifests itself in undesirable behaviors, such as urinating and defecating in the house, destroying furniture and accessories, and barking.
Aging: Age-related anxiety affects older dogs and may be associated with cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). In dogs with CDS, memory, learning, perception, and awareness begin to decline, similar to the early stages of Alzheimer's disease in humans. Understandably, this leads to confusion and anxiety in older dogs.
Dog anxiety: symptoms
So how can you tell if your dog has anxiety? There are several important symptoms to watch out for:
- Urinate or defecate in the house
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive barking
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviors.
Some of these symptoms can be the result of occasional events that cause anxiety, but any of them can become recurrent and therefore lead to more serious problems.
That said, the most dangerous symptom of dog anxiety is aggression. This aggression can be directed directly or indirectly, depending on the situation.
Direct aggression occurs when a dog acts aggressively towards people or other animals.
Indirect aggression can be just as dangerous and often occurs when a person comes between the dog and the source of the dog's aggression, such as another dog. Even if one dog is prevented from harming others, aggressive behaviors such as growling or barking can lead to undesirable situations for both humans and dogs.
Urinating and defecating in the house is a common symptom of separation anxiety. Anxious dogs often strain to the point of urinating or defecating in the house, even if they are domesticated. This is frustrating for homeowners and can cause property damage, not to mention unsightly cleaning.
Destructive behavior is also common with separation anxiety. The damage is usually located around entry and exit points, such as doors and windows, but dogs in a state of high anxiety are also at risk of injury. Attempts to break dog cages, windows, and even doors can lead to painful injuries and expensive veterinary treatments.
Treatment for dog anxiety
The best way to treat anxiety is to talk to your vet. Your vet can help you identify the type of anxiety your dog is suffering from and the possible causes and triggers. Your vet will also be able to help you determine if the anxiety is simply situational or if it is becoming an overwhelming problem for your dog. Additionally, veterinarians can also rule out any other medical conditions that may be causing your dog's symptoms.
Your vet will help you come up with a treatment plan. Since excessive anxiety is often caused by a variety of factors, the best way to treat it is usually through a combination of training, preventive strategies, and, in some cases, medications.
Training and counter conditioning
There are several training strategies that owners can use to treat dog anxiety. One way is counterconditioning. The purpose of counterconditioning is to change your dog's response to the stimuli responsible for anxiety, usually by replacing anxious or aggressive behavior with more desirable behavior, such as sitting or concentrating on the owner.
Another training strategy is desensitization. The owner slowly introduces the dog to the source of anxiety, preferably in small doses and with a reduced intensity. Repeated exposure and rewarding positive behavior can go a long way in controlling anxiety.
You may want to contact a professional dog trainer to help you choose the best approach for your dog, as training an anxious dog is not always easy.
Anti-anxiety medications for dogs
If your dog develops a serious anxiety disorder, your vet may recommend medications or natural therapies. Sometimes SSRIs and antidepressants are prescribed for dogs with anxiety, such as fluoxetine and clomipramine.
For predictable anxiety-producing events, such as thunderstorms, fireworks, or car trips, your vet might prescribe a medication such as a benzodiazepine along with an antidepressant to help your dog cope with stress.
Older dogs with cognitive dysfunction syndrome may benefit from the drug selegiline, which can help reduce some of the symptoms of CDS. Selegiline is also used to treat chronic anxiety in Europe.
Some products work best in conjunction with other medications, while others may be used alone, depending on your dog's case.
Natural products use pheromones and aromatherapy to reduce anxiety. Talk to your vet about the most suitable natural products for your dog.
Using CBD oil for dog anxiety?
Some dog owners have reported that they have had success using CBD oil to treat dog anxiety. CBD is a compound found in cannabis and hemp that dog owners, as well as humans, have found useful in treating a variety of different conditions. Anecdotal reports from dog owners claim that CBD oil can be effective in treating dog anxiety.
However, it is important to note that although many humans use CBD oil for the treatment of anxiety, there is currently no scientific data on how the use of CBD oil affects dogs. Also, CBD products are not yet regulated, which means that consistency and purity are not always validated. Therefore, if you are considering using CBD oil as a treatment for dog anxiety, it is best to consult with your veterinarian. Your vet can help you determine if CBD oil could be a good treatment for your dog's anxiety, as well as discuss different products, possible side effects, and risks.
Dog anxiety: prevention
It can be difficult to predict exactly what will make your dog anxious, and even more difficult to determine whether your dog's anxiety will develop into a more serious disorder. However, there are ways to help a dog or puppy avoid anxiety-related problems.
One of the best things you can do is learn to read the body language of dogs. Knowing when your dog is feeling uncomfortable or scared can help you avoid negative experiences or use them as a positive training moment. Body language can also tell you when a dog is getting anxious, which is especially helpful if your dog has a history of aggression-related anxiety.
Proper socialization can prevent the development of anxiety. Introducing your dog to new people, dogs, animals, places, and experiences can help you avoid an exaggerated response in the future and also help your dog become a well-adjusted canine citizen.
Obedience training is an essential tool to prevent and control dog anxiety. Lay the foundation for a healthy relationship and build trust. A well-trained dog is easier to socialize than an untrained dog, and obedience classes are a great place for dogs to meet other dogs in a controlled environment.
Exercise and nutrition
Regular exercise and stimulation are crucial to a dog's development, physical and mental well-being. A stimulated dog is less likely to engage in destructive behaviors, and good nutrition is equally important to your dog's health. Making sure you take care of your dog's physical and mental needs can help you prevent any behavioral problems other than anxiety, by letting you know the areas where your dog needs the most help.
If your dog has been diagnosed with anxiety problems, you can also try avoiding or preventing situations that trigger your dog's anxiety. For example, if you know that your dog gets anxious around large groups of dogs, you should avoid dog parks. Avoiding it doesn't mean you should put your life on hold, but it can reduce some of the stress on you and your dog.
If the source of the anxiety cannot be avoided, preventive measures such as leashes, body harnesses and, in some cases, basket muzzles, can prevent dangerous situations. Once you know your dog's triggers, you can prepare for these situations in advance.
In some countries, the colors of the collars and harnesses serve to indicate to other owners about the emotional state of the dogs, from an orange or red to indicate that the dog is aggressive, to a green to indicate that the dog is withdrawn and sensitive.
Like humans, many dogs will experience anxiety at some point in their lives. Although not all dogs will have an anxiety that leads to a diagnosable anxiety disorder, it is important to know the causes, symptoms, and treatment options related to dog anxiety.
Understanding these important facets can help you, as the owner, learn the best ways to help your dog in anxiety-provoking situations.
If you think your dog might have an anxiety problem, it is best to consult your vet; Your vet can diagnose your dog, rule out any other health problems, and help you develop a treatment plan that best suits your dog and his lifestyle.