Anxiety in Dogs- Signs, Coping and Leading a Full Life
The link between human and dog grows evermore. Just like humans, anxiety in dogs come in various forms. While it is unpleasant, it is a very common emotion, but it is also healthy to enable the animal to process and cope with feelings. Anxiety is something that all dogs can experience, and it can impact each individual dog in its own way. But, much like humans, if we don’t address anxiety, it can cause an anxiety disorder. In a dog, anxiety can lead to behavioral issues and other problems if left untreated. But how do you know if your dog has anxiety?
Causes of Anxiety in Dogs
Dog anxiety can stem from numerous causes, but the most common are:
Fear, such as loud noises, strange environments, certain new or stressful situations, and seemingly insignificant factors like surfaces. Some dogs have brief reactions to these kinds of stimuli; in anxious dogs, it may have a bigger, more detrimental impact.
Separation, which usually manifests itself in behaviors like urinating and defecating at home, destroying items, and barking, is estimated to affect around 14 percent of dogs.
Aging can be associated with cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) in dogs. Not too dissimilar to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the decline of brain-oriented functions like memory, perception, and awareness leads to confusion and anxiety in older and aging dogs.
Symptoms of Anxiety in Dogs
There are several symptoms you should look out for:
Aggression is the most dangerous symptom of dog anxiety. Aggression can be targeted directly or indirectly. Direct aggression occurs as aggression towards people or other animals. Indirect aggression can happen when a person comes between the dog and the source of the aggression, such as, another dog or human.
Urinating or defecating at home is another form of anxiety. Even housebroken dogs can fall foul of this because they can work themselves up, much like being pent up, and it gets to the point where they pee or poop from stress or worry.
Destructive behavior is another common symptom. The damage usually occurs around entry or exit points, like doorways, with behaviors such as attempting to break out of dog crates, windows, or doors. This is dangerous as dogs can be at risk of harming themselves in the process.
There are also other key symptoms to look out for, including but not limited to: excessive barking, pacing around, restlessness, as well as salivating (drooling) or panting. But you should also look out for signs of depression, such as not wanting to leave the house or showing immobility, as well as repetitive or compulsive behaviors such as chasing unseen objects, freezing and staring, excessive chewing on objects or licking the air.
Treating Anxiety in Dogs
Anxiety in dogs is best treated by having a talk with your veterinarian, who can help you pinpoint the type of anxiety, whether it’s situational or is a major issue in their life, as well as the likely causes or triggers, particularly if it stems from a medical condition. Your veterinarian will then guide you through a treatment plan. As anxiety is not a condition that is often treated by one approach, a combination of training, prevention, and possibly medication may get prescribed.
What Types of Treatment are Available?
There are numerous approaches you can take to treat your dog’s anxiety:
Training and counterconditioning, where, much like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in humans, the idea is to change the dog’s response to the anxiety-inducing stimuli. This is done by replacing anxious behavior with behavior like sitting or focusing on the owner. Desensitization is another approach, where the owner introduces the dog to the source of anxiety in small doses with the aim of managing the anxiety by repeated exposure and rewarding positive behavior.
Anxiety medications may be necessary if your dog develops a serious anxiety disorder, including common SSRIs and antidepressants used in humans, such as fluoxetine. Senior dogs with CDS can be prescribed drugs such as selegiline, which is used for treating chronic anxiety in Europe. Natural products can also work to reduce anxiety, such as aromatherapy, but you should speak to your veterinarian to see which products are best suited for your dog. CBD oil has also been shown to treat dog anxiety, but the results are purely anecdotal at this stage.
Preventing Anxiety in Dogs
The hardest thing can be to pinpoint what will make your dog anxious, but, much like in humans, there are ways to help a dog avoid anxiety-related problems:
Learn to read your dog’s body language, such as when your dog is uncomfortable or scared, so you can reduce negative experiences or take the opportunity to use the situation for positive reinforcement or counterconditioning. By reading body language, you can preempt when a dog is getting anxious.
Socialization is beneficial to dogs and humans alike. Introducing your dog to new experiences, whether this is a place, person, or another dog, can help your dog adjust to new situations and become a well-rounded canine.
Obedience is a fundamental tool for a healthy relationship and establishes trust between dog and owner. Obedience classes are a great place for dogs to meet other dogs in controlled situations.
Regular exercise, nutrition, and stimulation are essential for development. This has a very positive impact on their physical and mental well-being, making them less likely to display destructive behaviors and helps you understand the aspects your dog needs additional support from you.
Avoiding or preventing anxiety triggers, which can be very beneficial if your dog has recently been diagnosed with an anxiety issue. While this may feel like you have to plan every walk carefully, and put your life on hold somewhat, it can reduce some of the stress on your dog and yourself. But if you cannot avoid the source of the anxiety, leashes and body harnesses can prevent dangerous situations.
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