Dogs, just like humans, experience anxiety. While it is unpleasant, it is a natural and healthy emotion. Dog anxiety can affect all breeds, but its intensity can vary from dog to dog. Although the condition is common, if disproportionate levels of anxiety are not addressed, a dog can develop a severe and chronic anxiety disorder. If left untreated can lead to behavioral and other problems. How should you deal with anxiety in dogs?
Understanding the nuances and signs of anxiety, phobias, and fear in dogs will help you better understand how to help. In this article, we will be discussing anxiety in dogs and how you can deal with it.
Dog anxiety can be caused by several factors, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. The following are some of the most common causes of dog anxiety:
Loud noises, strange people or animals, visual stimuli such as hats or umbrellas, new or unfamiliar environments, specific situations such as the vet’s office or car rides, or surfaces such as grass or wood floors can all cause fear-related anxiety. Although some dogs may only have quick reactions to these types of stimuli, they may have a more significant impact on anxious dogs.
Separation anxiety is estimated to affect approximately 14% of dogs. When dogs with separation anxiety are left alone or separated from their family members, they cannot find comfort. This anxiety is frequently manifested in undesirable behaviors such as urinating and defecating in the house, destroying furniture and furnishings and barking.
Age-related anxiety affects senior dogs and is linked to Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS). Memory, learning, perception, and awareness begin to decline in CDS dogs, similar to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in humans. This naturally causes confusion and anxiety in senior dogs.
So, how do you know if your dog is anxious? There are several key symptoms to be aware of:
Some of these symptoms may result from one-time anxiety-inducing events, but any of them can become recurring and thus lead to more severe problems. Aggression is by far the most dangerous symptom of dog anxiety.
Depending on the circumstances, this aggression can be directed directly or indirectly. When a dog acts aggressively toward people or other animals, this is referred to as direct aggression. Indirect aggression occurs when a person comes between the dog and the source of the dog’s aggression, such as another dog, is equally dangerous. Even if a dog cannot harm others, aggressive behaviors such as growling or barking can result in unpleasant situations for humans and dogs.
Urinating and defecating in the house is a common separation anxiety symptom. Even if they are housebroken, anxious dogs frequently work themselves up to the point where they pee or poop in the house. This is inconvenient for owners and can result in property damage, not to mention the unpleasantness of the cleanup.
Separation anxiety is often associated with destructive behavior. The damage is usually concentrated around entry and exit points, such as doorways and windows, but dogs who are anxious are also at risk of injuring themselves. Attempts to escape from dog crates, windows, and even doors can result in painful injuries and costly veterinary care.
Talking with your veterinarian is the best way to start. Your veterinarian can assist you in determining the type of anxiety your dog is experiencing and the possible causes and triggers. Your veterinarian can also help you determine whether your dog’s anxiety is situational or is becoming an overwhelming issue. Veterinarians can also rule out any other medical conditions causing your dog’s symptoms.
Your veterinarian will assist you in developing a treatment plan. Because excessive anxiety is often caused by a combination of factors, the most effective treatment is usually a combination of training, preventive strategies, and, in some cases, medications.
To treat dog anxiety, owners can employ a variety of training techniques. Counterconditioning is one method. Counterconditioning aims to change your dog’s response to the stimuli that cause anxiety, usually by substituting a more desirable behavior, such as sitting or focusing on the owner, for the anxious or aggressive behavior.
Desensitization is another training strategy. The owner gradually introduces the source of anxiety to the dog, preferably in small doses and at a lower intensity. Repeated exposure and rewarding positive behavior can help with anxiety management.
Because training an anxious dog is not always easy, you may want to consult with a professional dog trainer to help you choose the best approach for your dog.
If your dog develops a severe anxiety disorder, your veterinarian may advise you to try medications or natural treatments. SSRIs and antidepressants, such as fluoxetine and clomipramine, are occasionally prescribed for anxious dogs. To help your dog cope with stress caused by predictable events such as thunderstorms, fireworks, or car rides, your veterinarian may prescribe benzodiazepine in conjunction with an antidepressant.
Senior dogs suffering from cognitive dysfunction syndrome may benefit from the medication selegiline, which can alleviate some of the symptoms of CDS. In Europe, selegiline is also used to treat chronic anxiety.
Depending on your dog’s situation, some products work best in conjunction with other medications, while others can be used alone. Pheromones and aromatherapy are used in natural products to reduce anxiety. Consult your veterinarian about the best natural products for your dog.
Some dog owners have reported success in treating dog anxiety with CBD oil. CBD is a compound found in cannabis and hemp that canine and human owners have found useful for treating a variety of health conditions. According to anecdotal evidence from dog owners, CBD oil can be effective in treating dog anxiety.
It can be challenging to predict what will cause your dog to become anxious. It is even more difficult to determine whether your dog’s anxiety will progress to a more severe disorder. There are, however, ways to help a dog or puppy avoid anxiety-related issues.
Reading dog body language is one of the most beneficial things you can do. Knowing when your dog is uncomfortable or scared can help you avoid unpleasant situations or turn them into positive training opportunities. Body language can also indicate when a dog is becoming anxious, which is particularly useful if your dog has a history of aggression-related anxiety.
Anxiety can be avoided through proper socialization. Introducing your dog to new people, dogs, animals, places, and experiences can help prevent an exaggerated reaction in the future and help your dog become a well-adjusted canine citizen.
Dog anxiety can be prevented and managed with obedience training. It establishes trust and lays the groundwork for a healthy relationship. A well-trained dog is more straightforward to socialize with than an untrained dog, and obedience classes are an excellent place for dogs to meet other dogs in a safe setting.
Regular exercise and stimulation are essential for a dog’s development and physical and mental well-being. A stimulated dog is less likely to adopt destructive behaviors, and good nutrition is also necessary for your dog’s health. Taking care of your dog’s physical and mental needs can help you prevent behavior problems that aren’t caused by anxiety and identify the areas where your dog requires the most assistance.
If your dog has been diagnosed with anxiety, you can also try to avoid or prevent situations that cause anxiety in your dog. For example, if your dog gets nervous around large groups of dogs, you should avoid dog parks. Avoidance does not require you to put your life on hold, but it can alleviate 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 help to prevent dangerous situations. You can prepare for these situations in advance if you know your dog’s triggers.
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