It can be upsetting to know that our beloved furry friends can experience the debilitating symptoms of anxiety, just like we can. Anxiety, or a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome, usually manifests as the same symptoms in dogs as it does in humans. For us, anxiety can be easily managed with psychotherapy or medications, but what about our dogs?
Similar to people, one of the easiest ways to spot your dog’s anxiety symptoms is to notice changes in behaviour. This may include physical changes such as pacing and panting or mental changes, like repetitive or compulsive behaviours and depression.
Understanding the Causes of Anxiety in Dogs
For people, anxiety is often influenced by the circumstances of their life, fear of the unknown, and stressors relating to work and money. For dogs, some of the most common causes of anxiety are fear of the unknown, separation anxiety, changes in routine, and anxiety related to aging.
Fear-related anxiety may sound like a redundant term, but as a common and well-understood issue, it is better described as fear of the unknown. For dogs, this can include countless aspects of their daily life, all of which could be potentially triggering for them.
Loud noises, flashy or unexpected visuals, unfamiliar people or animals, and new surroundings can trigger fear-related anxiety simply because they are new and unfamiliar to the dog. This type of anxiety is best avoided by properly socialising your dog and showing them around the world at an early age.
Separation anxiety was already considered the most common specific anxiety in companion dogs and has only gotten worse in the post-COVID time. Dogs that experience separation anxiety may not have been properly socialised, have a safe, confined space to call their own, or may not have spent enough time alone as a puppy.
Dogs with separation anxiety find themselves unable to relax, settle down, or self-soothe when left alone or separated from their family. This type of anxiety often presents as “bad” behaviours like destroying furniture or other household items, pooping or peeing in the house, and excessive barking, whining or howling.
More on separation anxiety in our article Tips for Pet Parents with Clingy Dogs.
Anxiety about Changes in Routine
This type of anxiety is also referred to as environmental anxiety, as it is typically characterised by disturbances in your dog’s everyday life or home. As creatures of habit, changes to your dog’s living space or routine can be scary and stressful and can escalate to anxiety in some scenarios.
The separation or death of an owner, the addition of a new baby or roommate in the home or moving to an entirely new place is all changes in routine that can make your dog feel anxious. In time, most dogs adjust to the changed circumstances and grow familiar with the new normal, which will reduce their stress and anxiety.
If a dog does not seem to suffer from anxiety until their old age, it may be due to cognitive dysfunction syndrome, or CDS. Similar to the early stages of Alzheimer’s in humans, CDS is characterised by losses of awareness, memory, perception, and learning.
Cognitive dysfunction syndrome will understandably cause a dog to feel confused, overwhelmed, frustrated, and scared. Because of this, age-related anxiety is typically best treated with calming supplements or medications that can help your pet relax and ease their nerves.
Common Anxiety Symptoms
Anxiety can cause various symptoms since every pet will experience anxiety at varying levels and in different ways. Some of the general symptoms of anxiety in dogs can include:
- Restlessness or clingy behaviour
- Inability to settle or relax
- Shaking, trembling, or acting “jumpy”
- Pacing, or running away and hiding
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviours
- Timid body posture such as cowering or shifting weight
- Irritability or aggression
- Excessive whining, barking or howling (especially when the owner is away)
- Changes in appetite
- Pinned back ears and wide eyes
- Self-harm in the form of excessive licking, chewing or biting
- Destructive or “bad behaviours” such as destroying furniture or accidents in the house
You should speak to your veterinarian about possible treatments if you notice any combination of these symptoms or other anxiety-related indications.
How to Treat your Dog’s Anxiety
If your veterinarian diagnoses your dog with anxiety, you’ll need to know your treatment options. Your veterinarian will make professional recommendations based on factors like the intensity of your dog’s anxiety, age, and overall health, but it is up to you to make the right choices for your dog.
Training methods such as desensitisation and counter-conditioning can help reduce anxiety. Desensitisation works by slowly and gently exposing your dog to the source of anxiety and rewarding a positive response while counter-conditioning is the process of changing your dog’s response to their trigger with more desirable behaviour.
If you opt for treating your dog’s anxiety through training, you may want to contact a professional dog trainer for assistance. Mindful training is essential when dealing with something like anxiety since you could accidentally worsen or increase your dog’s anxiety.
Exercise is good for the body and mind! Dogs that display symptoms of anxiety benefit greatly by increasing their daily activity. Remember your pet’s age and physical limitations when incorporating a new exercise routine.
Most dogs are bored and look to you for some entertainment. If you provide them with mental stimulation through interactive toys and puzzles, you will notice them being more independent and less clingy.
If you prefer to do things naturally, you may want to find natural therapy for your dog’s anxiety. Although several natural supplements may help ease your dog’s anxiety, the hemp seed oil is one of the most popular and is believed to have many health benefits.
Research and clinical trials on hemp seed oil’s efficacy in humans point to reduced anxieties and disorders like PTSD through a combination of effects of the anti-inflammatory actions of the fatty acids, the antioxidant actions of Vitamin E and the anti-depressant actions of phytosterols.
Hemp seed oil is also cardioprotective - it could help reduce the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease, improve memory and slow down age-related brain function decline. Naturally, many pet parents consider hemp seed oil a great natural supplement not only for managing anxiety symptoms but also to support their pet’s general health and wellbeing. Here is why your vet might recommend hemp seed oil.
At BUDDYPET, we recommend Marley – 100% natural, raw, cold-pressed hemp seed oil from Tasmania. For senior dogs with age-related anxiety, we recommend that you look at Milly – a delicious blend of Tasmanian hemp seed oil and turmeric. Milly is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant supplement to support senior dogs in their golden years.
Other natural solutions to look for are supplements with passionflower, chamomile, and Ashwagandha.
Being responsible pet owners ourselves we do hope this information is helpful in determining if your pet may benefit from natural remedies. As always, talk to your vet to choose the best course of action.