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In humans, a panic attack is a sudden, overwhelming surge of anxiety and fear. Your heart can pound and you can even struggle to breathe. If your dog were to suffer with a panic attack, you would have to proceed with extreme caution as they can become aggressive. But can dogs even suffer from panic attacks?
Can Dogs Get Panic Attacks?
Yes, dogs can get panic attacks and many will in certain circumstances. Many people think because panic attacks can be brought on by extreme social situations, that dogs wouldn’t suffer from the same problem. They don’t go to concerts, football stadiums, or nightclubs. But it is 100% possible for your dog to suffer from a panic attack, too.
There are four main types of panic attack in dogs and they can make your dog extremely anxious.
- Confinement anxiety can cause a dog to panic when in a closed space
- Travel anxiety causes a dog to react in fear when in the car, and can be caused by motion sickness
- Noise anxiety occurs when a dog is highly alarmed and frightened by thunderstorms or fireworks
- Separation anxiety causes panic over being left alone
Is My Dog Having a Panic Attack?
There are a number of telltale signs to look out for if you suspect your dog is having a panic attack. Is your dog hiding, shaking, whining or howling? Is your dog breathing rapidly and has their heart rate increased? Are your dog’s pupils dilated? Are their ears pointing back and their tail tucked underneath the body? Is your pooch becoming aggressive or trying to escape? Is your dog urinating or defecating indoors? All of these could be indicators your dog is having a panic attack.
You know what symptoms to look for, but what causes panic attacks in dogs? Panic attacks can be brought on by confinement anxiety, such as when in fenced yards, dog kennels, or an enclosed space. Being in car, bus or train, or visiting strange places can all cause travel anxiety. Noise anxiety can cause panic attacks, so thunderstorms, fire truck sirens, and any other loud unexpected noises could be triggers. Plus, separation anxiety is a possible cause. Has your dog been left alone often for long periods of time, lost a loved one, or gone through a major life change?
Your vet will diagnose the condition in detail through conversations with you to identify causes and circumstances around the attack. They may also do a fecal smear, urinalysis, and complete blood count to rule out other serious conditions.
How Do I Treat My Dog’s Panic Attack?
Treating your dog for a panic attack is usually a relatively straightforward procedure. Medication, such as clorazepate, fluoxetine, and buspirone, may be used to combat panic attacks and anxiety. More exercise will be required to help your dog be physically and mentally exhausted, so they won’t have the energy to be so anxious. Plus, when exercising, the brain releases increased serotonin, which works very much like an anti-anxiety drug.
It can also be effective to give your dog a safe space. A small room or a cage (with a favorite blanket and the door left open), which they feel is all theirs, gives them somewhere to escape to and feel safe in when they start to feel anxious. All of these measures are extremely helpful in treating panic attacks in dogs.
Some dogs benefit from a "thundershirt" which helps to calm them in thunderstorms. In cases of travel panic, steps to condition them and get them used to the car have proven to be successful in making a car drive a fun event. The use of pheromones in the room where your dog rests or sleeps can also have a calming effect. Speak to your vet about these measures and to perhaps get the name of an animal behaviorist that can help.
How long will it take for your dog to recover from their panic attacks? The good news is that recovery begins as soon as treatment starts, so you may start to see signs of improvement within a few days. However, it may require some time and patience for your dog to get used to their safe space and for any medication to kick in. But within a few weeks or months, your dog may be fully recovered.
For first-hand accounts from other owners, plus detailed answers to questions on similar conditions, learn more at Anxiety in Dogs.
How Are Panic Attacks Similar in Dogs and Humans?
You can see certain similarities in the way panic attacks manifest themselves in dogs and humans. Some of those similarities are as follows:
Both dogs and humans can start to breathe rapidly and feel their heart rate increase drastically.
In both, individuals may want to hide or escape from the environment they are in.
In both, sufferers may shake or tremble uncontrollably.
Both humans and dogs may begin to pace rapidly.
In both dogs and humans, loss of appetite may be a sign of a panic attack.
In both, pupils may appear visibly dilated.
How Are Panic Attacks Different in Dogs and Humans?
It is also worth noting, however, that there are certain differences in the symptoms of panic attacks seen in dogs, humans and other animals. Some of those differences are:
In dogs, their ears may go back and their tail may be firmly tucked under their body.
Dogs may excessively lick or chew their skin, this is not a symptom commonly seen in humans.
Humans are more likely to become withdrawn, whereas dogs can become overly aggressive, growling or biting.
Dogs tend to become overly attentive, climbing on you and licking you more than usual.
Maisy was a 7-year-old German Shepherd who suddenly started to have panic attacks in the house. She would become withdrawn from her owners and tremble uncontrollably in her bed. Her owners were understandably concerned seeing their dog in such visible fear. After consultation with a vet and a detailed conversation, it became apparent that it may be because their other dog, who Maisy had always lived with, had recently died. This traumatic event had left Maisy feeling isolated and anxious, leading to the panic attacks.
Fortunately, the owners increased her walks, they showered her with affection and attention and she went on a brief course of buspirone. Within a couple of months, she was back to her bubbly, happy self. This helped show that sometimes a sudden change in a dog’s life can bring on panic attacks, but also that a few simple actions can make them feel safe and at ease again.