7 min read

Does My Dog Have Anxiety?


Written by Emily Bayne

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 05/05/2022, edited: 06/02/2023

Like humans, dogs can develop anxiety ‚ÄĒ in fact, it's more common than you might think. According to the¬†Merck Veterinary Manual, approximately 1 in 7 dogs has some degree of¬†separation anxiety.

But studies suggest generalized anxiety may be even more common than that. A 2020 study on the prevalence of anxiety found that 72% of more than 13,000 dogs demonstrated anxiety-associated behaviors, like apprehension, poor attention span, and reactivity, as well as obsessive behaviors, like compulsive grooming.

Anxiety disorders often go undiagnosed ‚ÄĒ dogs can't verbalize their feelings, and the outward signs aren't always easy to spot. Behaviors you may think of as cute quirks (like air-licking) could be a sign of underlying anxiety. Many pet parents write off these milder symptoms, not realizing they're telltale signs of a bigger problem.

Has your fur-baby's behavior left you wondering, "Does my dog have anxiety?" If so, read on to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and types of anxiety in dogs, plus some tips to help you identify and treat this problem early on.

golden retriever dog lying down

Signs of anxiety in dogs

Anxiety can trigger a slew of symptoms ranging from mild to severe, but unfortunately, many of these symptoms go unnoticed. Pet parents often disregard their pet's whining, obsessive grooming, and other anxiety symptoms as peculiar personality traits.

Destructiveness and household accidents due to separation anxiety are especially overlooked. These offenses may cause the pet to receive punishment, which can actually worsen symptoms.  

Anxiety symptoms can manifest in many different ways, making it difficult to spot by the untrained eye. Below are some of the more common signs of anxiety in dogs. 

Types of anxiety in dogs

There are many causes and types of anxiety in dogs, and no two cases are exactly alike. Here are the most common anxiety-related conditions that vets see in their canine patients.

  • Social anxiety: Social anxiety in dogs is similar to that in humans. It's a form of anxiety that centers around exposure to unfamiliar people, pets, or surroundings.

  • Separation anxiety: One of the most common types of anxiety in dogs, separation anxiety occurs when dogs are separated from the people they are closest to. Separation anxiety may manifest as pacing, whining, destructive chewing, self-harm, and escape attempts.¬†

  • Rescue anxiety: True to its name, rescue anxiety is a form of anxiety that commonly affects rescue and shelter dogs. Rescue anxiety is closely tied with feelings of abandonment and may present as separation anxiety.

  • Isolation anxiety: Isolation anxiety is very similar to separation anxiety with one main difference: instead of fearing their humans' absence, the dog fears being totally alone.

  • Confinement anxiety: Anxiety that results from being confined in a small space, such as a travel carrier or kennel.

  • Travel anxiety: Travel anxiety occurs when a dog has an intense fear of traveling, either by car, plane, boat, or train. This type of anxiety can develop as a result of prior experiences with motion sickness.

  • Noise anxiety: Fireworks, gunshots, and thunder are just a few common culprits of noise anxiety ‚ÄĒ a very common form of anxiety in dogs.

  • PTSD in dogs: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) isn't technically a type of anxiety ‚ÄĒ however, anxiety is a primary symptom. PTSD can develop after a dog experiences a traumatic event. This condition is extremely common in dogs with a history of abuse, but it can also result from car accidents, animal attacks, house fires, or police work.

  • Panic attacks: Panic attacks may occur as a result of confinement, separation, travel, or noise-related anxiety. Panic attacks in dogs are similar to those in humans and are categorized by rapid heartbeat, breathing changes, and shaking.

  • Generalized anxiety: This form of anxiety doesn't always have a clear cause, but dogs with generalized anxiety may present symptoms regardless of the situation.

Common anxiety triggers in dogs

Anything can become a source of anxiety for a dog, but a few triggers are especially common. These include:

  • Loud noises (like thunder or fireworks)¬†¬†
  • Car rides¬†
  • Confinement
  • Unfamiliar people or animals¬†
  • Unfamiliar settings¬†
  • Recent life changes (like moving, rehoming, or the death of a loved one)

Some dog breeds seem to have a genetic predisposition to anxiety. Here is a list of breeds experts say may be more likely to develop this condition:

two veterinarians in blue scrubs applying a stethoscope to black and white dog

Tips for caring for a dog with anxiety

Anxiety is a natural reaction to stress, and all dogs will experience it at some time or another. However, if anxiety symptoms are interfering with your dog's daily activities or are decreasing their quality of life, you'll need to step in. Read on for some foolproof tips for soothing your dog's anxiety symptoms.

Start documenting your dog's episodes

If your dog starts exhibiting symptoms that could be anxiety, you should document them in as much detail as possible. Make a journal specifically for your dog's behavior. Record the nature of your dog's symptoms, when and where they occurred, and events that may have triggered them.

Not only can this help you gauge if the behavior is worsening and avoid your dog's triggers, but it can also be essential for getting an accurate diagnosis from your vet. 

Seek expert help

The first step in caring for a dog with anxiety symptoms is to take them to the vet to get a proper diagnosis and determine if there are other factors at play. During the vet visit, the vet will likely examine your dog's physical health to rule out pain or underlying conditions as the cause of their abnormal behavior.

The vet may also want to do lab work, including a blood count and urinalysis, to check for signs of underlying conditions. The vet will want to know everything about your dog's symptoms ‚ÄĒ like when they started, how long they last, and whether certain situations trigger them (this is where your symptom journal will come in handy!).

If your vet determines your dog has mild anxiety, they will likely send you home with some tips for managing their symptoms. For moderate or severe anxiety, they may refer you to an animal behaviorist or prescribe your pet anti-anxiety medications.  

Anti-anxiety medications   

Medication isn't typically the first line of treatment for anxiety in dogs, but it can help manage symptoms. There are a few types of meds vets prescribe for dogs with anxiety.

An older but effective class of medications vets sometimes use for this purpose is benzodiazepines (like Xanax, diazepam, and clonazepam). Most vets use benzodiazepines as a last resort since they often cause sluggishness and have a high potential for drug interactions and overdose.   

More often, vets start with anti-depressants for mild anxiety ‚ÄĒ these include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitors (SARIs), and tricyclic anti-depressants. Each of these drug classes has slightly different modes of action, but they all increase the absorption of serotonin in the neurological pathways. Fluoxetine, trazodone, clomipramine, and amitriptyline are some of the more common anti-depressants that vets prescribe for anxiety.

At-home solutions

Some pet parents find that anxiety wraps can prevent symptoms from arising when used before a stressful event like a car ride or vet visit. The idea behind these garments is to create a constant, gentle pressure against the body to alleviate anxiety symptoms. These garments wrap around the pet's chest and abdomen and gently press against the body to stimulate the release of feel-good endorphins.   

If your dog struggles with separation or isolation anxiety, you may want to consider providing games or activities to keep them busy while you're out. Food puzzles, stuffed toys, and snuffle mats are all positive ways to engage your dog's mind and prevent them from engaging in destructive or harmful behaviors.

Behavior modification    

If done correctly, behavior modification can reduce the symptoms of separation anxiety in many cases. As with any training method, behavior modification requires a significant time commitment, and pet parents must be consistent.

The first step of behavior modification is meeting the dog's physical and mental needs through exercise and enrichment. This means wearing the dog out mentally and physically every day, especially before leaving them alone. 

Secondly, pet parents must downplay arrivals and departures. For many dogs, separation anxiety symptoms begin before their parents even walk out the door because they are accustomed to emotionally charged goodbyes. Plus, giving your pet lots of affection when you first come home just reinforces this heightened emotional state. Instead of showering your pooch with affection when you walk through the door, ignore your dog for a few minutes before leaving and after arriving home. Doing so should reduce your pet's emotional response over time.

Lastly, giving your dog busy work (like puzzles and something to chew) can help get their mind off their anxiety. Some experts recommend crating dogs with separation anxiety too. While crates can be a source of comfort for anxious dogs and certainly prevent household destruction, in some cases, they can actually worsen separation anxiety ‚ÄĒ especially if the dog has a history of confinement anxiety.¬†

Dogs with severe separation anxiety that doesn't improve with at-home training, meds, or home remedies may need help from a professional animal behaviorist. If you're unsure where to start, ask your vet to recommend a reputable animal behaviorist in your area.

Call in reinforcements 

The symptoms of some forms of anxiety don't arise while in the company of others. And while we pet parents would like to be with our dogs 24/7, the reality is we can't. There are options, though!

Doggy daycare is a good starting place and provides dogs with ample socialization and exercise opportunities. Unfortunately, traditional doggy daycare isn't for everyone, and dogs with generalized or situational anxiety may find daycares too overwhelming and frightening. For these dogs, we'd recommend going with a private daycare service or hiring a dog walker or sitter to take care of Lucky while you're away.

Still have questions about your dog's behavior? Chat with a veterinary expert to get answers about your pet's quirks, health, and more!          

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