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Agitation in Dogs

Agitation in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What is Agitation?

All dogs have their own personalities just like people.  And just like people, each dog can become agitated by different things in their home life or environment.  He may get agitated from you touching him because he is actually in pain.  He may become agitated because when he was young he was forced into bad situations and now you are reminding him of that.  He may become agitated due to anything.  

Your veterinarian will be able to examine your dog and either diagnose or rule out a medical cause behind the agitated behavior.  There are treatment options for the cause if there is one or there are medications available to help with his temperament.  If addressed properly and patiently, you and your dog should be able to overcome the agitated behavior.

Your dog’s agitation may be caused by something medically related.  It would be best to have him evaluated by his veterinarian.

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Symptoms of Agitation in Dogs

Symptoms of agitation can vary depending on the cause.  Your dog may: 

  • Growl
  • Nip 
  • Run away
  • Cower
  • Jump like you surprised him
  • Avoid you


Different types of agitation in your dog can be agitation to him specifically such as skin agitation from fleas or allergies.  He can also develop agitation behaviorally from pain, illnesses, territorial behaviors, and other similar diagnoses that can lead to a behavioral change.  The type of agitation your dog displays may be caused by different things depending on how he is behaving.

Causes of Agitation in Dogs

Behavioral agitation can be from a source of territorial aggression, protective guarding behaviors, or even from early trauma or fighting.  If you’ve had your dog since he was a puppy and he is just now showing signs of agitation or slight aggression, he may be attempting to establish dominance.  Dogs have a pack mentality; if he shows signs of agitation without any previously known episodes, he may be testing you in an attempt to be the alpha.  Other causes of agitation may include him trying to protect you or other family members from something he sees as a potential threat.  

Agitation in your dog can also be from him not feeling well, from him being in some form of pain, or even just a behavioral trait.  Many dogs show agitation as a first symptom of illness or if he is older and developing symptoms of arthritis.  However, many dogs, no matter their age or health status, can display agitated behavior towards people, including you, and other animals.  If may be something he displays from a young age or it may be something he acquires over time.

Diagnosis of Agitation in Dogs

If your dog is displaying signs of agitation, it would be a good idea for you to take him in to see his veterinarian for an evaluation.  When you arrive at your appointment, your veterinarian will begin by collecting a verbal history from you.  She will want to know when his agitated behavior started, if it has been progressing, and if there have been any changes at home or with his routine.  Any details you can provide will better help the veterinarian understand your dog’s behavior.  She will also want to know about his overall health.  Has he been favoring any areas of his body, only show signs of agitation when you approach a certain area, and similar questions.  This can be indicative to an underlying medical cause to his agitation.  

If your veterinarian suspects a medical problem related to his behavior, she will want to run diagnostics.  The process in which she collects her testing will vary depending on your dog’s symptoms.  She will want to collect blood work to check his overall blood values and chemistries.  A complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel will provide her with these values.  She may also want to collect a urine sample in order to run a urinalysis to check kidney and bladder function.  Any abnormalities in the lab work can indicate a health issue in your dog which could be the cause of his agitation.  

If your dog is sensitive in a specific area of his body, she will want to look closer at it to determine if it is the cause or not.  If he is protective over his hind end, she may want to take radiographs to check for the presences of hip dysplasia or arthritis.  If he is sensitive around his abdomen, she can also utilize the radiograph to take a look at his internal organs and body wall.  If the radiographs show there may be an issue with something internally, she may then suggest an ultrasound for another, more specific view of the internal organs.  If your pet is sensitive about his ears, she will examine them from the outside and on the inside for a cause.  If your dog is very protective and agitated about things, your veterinarian may suggest sedating your dog in order to properly evaluate him.  The sedation will not harm your dog; it will actually keep him and the veterinary staff safer than trying to keep him still if he becomes excessively agitated.   

After she gathers a history from you and can rule out possible medical causes resulting from the diagnostic process, the vet may then come to the conclusion it is behavioral.  Veterinarians have a lot of information on dog behaviors, but she may suggest you visit a behaviorist as they are professionals with certifications and degrees in dog behavior specifically.

Treatment of Agitation in Dogs

The source of your dog’s agitation will determine his treatment.  If your dog’s agitation is stemmed from his hips hurting, your veterinarian will recommend pain medication and physical therapy.  Keeping him moving by going on daily walks, swimming, and utilizing cold laser therapy are all ways you can help ease your dog’s pain.  If his agitation is from an ear infection or a bladder infection, for example, proper medications will be prescribed in order to treat his discomfort and infection.

If your dog’s irritation is strictly behavioral, there are multiple ways to address it.  First, you should try to avoid triggering any type of negative behavior when at all possible.  Next, there are outlets you can try to employ to redirect his energy.  For example, be sure to exercise him regularly to ensure he lets out his pent up energy.  Another option of is medication.  There are prescriptions available through your veterinarian that can calm your dog and help with any anxiety.  Of course, this should be a last resort option so you do not have to keep your dog on medication.  Many people find success with homeopathic therapies and medications which are natural ways to help your dog.  Essential oils are also extremely beneficial to keep your dog calm; however, be sure to consult with an experienced veterinarian in regards to essential oils and other natural medications due to potential toxicity if used incorrectly.

Talking with a behaviorist will be very beneficial.  This type of specialist is able to spend time with your dog and see subtle signs many people do not notice.  They are trained to see the slightest change in your dog’s body language so that his trigger can be pointed out and avoided.

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Recovery of Agitation in Dogs

If you address your dog’s agitation properly, his prognosis of recovery is good.  While it may take some time, it is possible for you to overcome his agitation episodes.  If you commit to understanding your dog’s agitation, the two of you will be able to come to a better understanding and be able to work with and read each other, and therefore will have a happy life together.

Agitation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals





Two Years


0 found this helpful


0 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Im trying to figure out how to help my 2 year old female boxer as she is super aggressive towards other dogs and is taking 300mg of Trazodone in the morning and at night. She was in a meth house (came back positive) for the first 11 months of her life and I have had her since then. I need some help to help her please.

Sept. 7, 2020

Answered by Dr. Michele K. DVM

0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I'm sorry for your dog that she is having these problems. Unfortunately, this is not a problem that we can solve through one email. I do think that it would help to hire a trainer for her. There are many behavioral trainers that can do really wonderful things if given the chance to work with the dog. It sounds like she came from a rough beginning, and I think that you could work with her so that she doesn't have to be sedated all the time, although that probably helps now. I think that would be the first thing to do, and if you do not know a trainer, contacting your veterinarian and asking for a trainer that works with positive reinforcement that will come to your house and work with her would be a really good idea. I hope that all goes well for her and she's able to overcome her rough beginnings. It is wonderful that you are trying to help her.

Sept. 7, 2020

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