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What is Anxiety?

Even the calmest of dogs may experience anxiety in traumatizing situations, and some canines always seem on high alert. No matter whether you are an animal trainer, pet owner, or just an overall animal lover, it is important to know the signs of stress in dogs and to teach those signs to others, particularly children. Dogs with ongoing anxiety issues may be helped by calming actions, natural remedies, behavioral training, and in some cases, using prescription medications.

Knowing the signs of anxiety in dogs will help to encourage happier, more confident animals, and prevent property destruction as well as preventing injuries to either humans or canines.

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Symptoms of Anxiety in Dogs

Anxiety is communicated through the canine’s facial expressions, body posture, and behavior. Some of the signs that your dog may be anxious include:

  • Aggressive chewing
  • Cowering
  • Ears held back
  • Escape behaviors
  • Exaggerated yawning
  • Excessive vocalizations
  • Frantic tail chasing
  • Housetraining accidents
  • Irritability
  • Licking nose or face (with no food present)
  • Lip tension
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Showing the whites of the eye
  • Submissive rolling over
  • Tail tucked under
  • Timidity
  • Trembling
  • Whites of the eye turning red

Types

Even the most well-balanced canines can experience anxiety under traumatic circumstances, but for some dogs, it can develop into a debilitating disorder know as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is an anxiety disorder that is triggered by an event or ordeal in which grave physical harm either occurred or was threatened. Although this disorder is more common in canines who work in military or law enforcement positions, it can happen in civilian dogs as well. Some situations that can lead to PTSD in civilian dogs can include:

  • Animal attack (including other dogs)
  • Experiencing a natural disaster
  • Maltreatment by or loss of a human caretaker
  • Witnessing violence to companion (human or otherwise)

Causes of Anxiety in Dogs

Environmental Changes

Dogs that show anxiety during storms may be responding to the static electricity and barometric changes in the air rather than the sound. In those cases, anti-static treatments formulated for a dog’s fur or storm jackets may be helpful in reducing anxiety. 

Noise

Noise is a very common instigator of anxiety in canines, particularly the sounds of fireworks, vacuum cleaners, or of thunder. Noise anxiety is a common component to PTSD in dogs. 

Separation

Separation anxiety is characterized by frantic destructive behavior, loud and excessive vocalizations, and house soiling when either the person the animal is most bonded to leaves their environment or when the dog is left completely alone (also known as isolation anxiety). 

Social

Social anxiety can take the form of anxiety with other dogs, anxiety with humans, or a combination of both. This can be expressed by either extremely submissive behavior or irritable and aggressive behaviors.

Travel

Many canines experience the same motion induced nausea that some humans do. Other dogs may simply be nervous due to the fear of the unknown or past negative associations; particularly for dogs that travel infrequently or only to places that they may consider unpleasant, like the veterinarian's office or groomers.

Diagnosis of Anxiety in Dogs

Many dogs enjoy physical interaction with people, some only accept hands on attention from their owners, and still others never really enjoy it. Here are a few ways to know whether a specific dog is open to your attention. 

Belly rubs 

There are multiple reasons that a dog may roll on its back it may want belly rubs, playtime, or it may actually be afraid and trying to appease you. A dog that is afraid will hold itself close, often tucking its tail between its legs, whereas a happy dog who wants its belly scratched will generally have a loose and relaxed appearance. 

Hugging

Most dogs do not particularly like being hugged, it is not a natural behavior for dogs, and it limits their ability to move away from danger. Although snuggling with a favorite human is often an enjoyable experience for both human and animal, the act of wrapping your arms around the neck or body of a canine may be interpreted as an aggressive act, and even dogs that tolerate this behavior frequently show signs of distress. 

Petting

Dogs typically enjoy being petted in one form or another. This activity frequently encourages the production of the hormone oxytocin, the hormone most responsible for feelings of bonding. For many dogs, certain types of petting may seem more threatening than soothing, and some dogs may not like being touched much at all. If the dog you are petting turns its head away from you or moves away, licks their lips or nose, yawns, or hold their ears back or laid flat, there is a good chance that dog is not enjoying their interaction.

Treatment of Anxiety in Dogs

Treatment for an anxious dog will depend on the severity of the anxiety, the type of anxiety being displayed, and the frequency of the reaction. If your dog is showing signs of distress due to a new situation, such as the first thunderstorm or car ride, it is generally a better choice to distract your dog rather than comfort it. Comforting your dog in a new but unthreatening situation may lead them to believe that their fear is valid, rather than alleviate it, alternate methods of calming your dog may include speaking to the dog in a calm and low voice, playing music designed to reduce stress for dogs, giving your dog some exercise (whether through playing or by taking a nice long walk), or calming pheromones. For dogs that have developed anxious behaviors that are recurring, such as social anxiety, fear of noises, or moderate separation anxiety, behavioral training may take time, but it often results in a happier confident dog, and herbal supplements may be recommended by your veterinarian.

In the most extreme cases, medication may be required to calm your companion’s nerves. This most often takes the form of anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications such as diazepam or prozac, although a new drug was approved in 2016 for dogs with certain types of anxiety. The new drug is an oromucosal gel that is administered just before or during the inciting event as it has a rapid onset of just thirty minutes to a half hour and lasts between two and three hours.

Recovery of Anxiety in Dogs

First impressions can be very important, for dogs as well as people. To be sure you make a good first impression with a new dog, use the following guidelines:

  • Always let the dog make first contact
  • Children should never approach an unsupervised dog on their own, and adults should be cautious when approaching, even if the dog is wagging its tail
  • Do not lean directly over the dog
  • If the dog is accompanied by it’s owner, ask permission before petting it
  • Keep eye contact brief and non-threatening
  • Pet the dog’s chest, shoulders and the base of the neck; avoid reaching over the head or around the throat area

Anxiety Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Eve
mongrel
5 Months
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Licking paws
starts crying in the middle
ears are at the back
stays alone
ignores walking
lame reactions
Sleeps all day

my 5 months old pup got scared by seeing me in a mask. since then he is upset and sad. he sleeps all day long and is not interested in any of his favorite games and toys. although he is having his food properly and sleeps close to me. but stays very silent. is this a sign of anxiety?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1604 Recommendations
It seems unlikely to me that the signs that you are describing are related to being scared by the mask, as puppies tend to be fairly resilient. I worry that there is something else going on, and it would be best to have Eve examined by your veterinarian to make sure that he is okay.

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Cody
Boston Terrier
3 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

nervous

My mom passed away 6 months ago from cancer. She had an older pug (female) and two male Boston’s. Cody, her older Boston started showing random aggressive behavior towards certain people, but mainly towards the other Boston. Mostly when my son is around. This started when she was sick. After her passing the two Boston’s have had several fights, but Cody always looks like he’s full of anxiety. He gets along great with my dogs, and even our male cat. He also is very clingy to my 10 year old son, and doesn’t like the other Boston around him.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3314 Recommendations
The passing of an owner can be very stressful for an animal and they may react in certain ways, certainly the cause of the issues is purely behavioural and it is a case of either working with a trainer/behaviourist to get to the bottom of the issue. We have on our website (link below) many training guides for a variety of different issues, you should look through them to see which is most applicable to Cody and try to work through the steps; also at the bottom of each article there is a section where you may ask a question to a certified dog trainer. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM https://wagwalking.com/training/behavior

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Angie
Wirehaired Dachshund
2 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Hello doctor,

My baby Angie, who had an accident a month ago (fall from the 4th storey terrace), due to which she had a fractured pelvic bone. A month later at this moment she is no more in pain after regular hydrotherapy sessions, medicines and exercise. She is typically a very active dog, and she still continues to walk and run without any difficulty. However, after the accident she refuses to jump or climb up the stairs, sofa or the bed like before. Is her anxiety due to her traumatic accident? What can be done about it? Any advise would really help. Thank you!

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3314 Recommendations
This may be due to anxiety or may just not be comfortable for her to jump, it may be that if she positions herself to jump it may may provoke a pain response leading her to reduce that type of activity. Give her time, this is more of an encouragement exercise than a medical one if the cause is anxiety; try to move her around and see if she is uncomfortable, if she is you’ll know she still has some discomfort in some positions. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Faith
Black labradour
6 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

We have a black lab that is 6 yrs old. She was recued at 4mos and lived with a breeder until she was 8 mos. at which time she came to live with us. She is perfectly behaved in every way except if we leave her alone for longer than about an hour. Then she becomes very anxious and chews on the siding of our house or around the door jambs to try to get into the house.
We don't like to crate her if we are going to be gone for longer that a few hours. We are at our wits end as to how to help her get over this. Any suggestions would be so appreciated.
Thanks

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3314 Recommendations
There is no one fits all solution here unfortunately as you are not around to correct the behaviour, I would however recommend that you place her in a crate or a room where she cannot do any damage; there is no magic command or medicine which is going to resolve this. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Mollie
Lab mix
9 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

anxiety
Destructive

Medication Used

Fluoxetine

My dog has had separation anxiety since we adopted her at 5 years old about 4 years ago. We managed to get her anxiety controlled with the use of training and fluoxetine. She use to have accidents when we were gone, and since using the fluoxetine she has done much better. Everything has been fine for the past 4 years until the last couple weeks. Multiple days now she has been destructive in the house, ripping up carpet, clawing at door frames, chewing on door handles - all of which she NEVER did before, even prior to fluoxetine. Is there a chance this medication is not working for her anymore and she needs a different medication or to be redosed? I'm at a loss and cannot bear to continue seeing our house ruined. We cannot crate her because she gets more anxious. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I do not want to get rid of her, but we're approaching desperation.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1604 Recommendations
Dogs don't typically need changes in the dosage of that medication once they are on a dose that works, but there may be something going on with Mollie that is causing her to become anxious again, and she may need an increase, at least temporarily. I'm not sure what dosage she is on, or how much room there is to move with that medication, but your veterinarian will be able to determine if that is what she needs, and help you manage this anxiety for her. I hope that she is okay.

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