Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments
Anxiety is a body’s response to stressful situations, or simply stress in general, in both humans and dogs. A dog could suffer from anxiety because he is afraid of something, injured or in pain, simply uncomfortable, or not getting what he wants at the time (for example).
Symptoms of Anxiety in Dogs
Though they might change based upon the reason your dog is feeling anxious, he might experience any of these. It usually isn’t hard to spot a dog feeling anxious, for those who pay attention.
- Urinating or defecating in the house
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive barking
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
Three Main Causes of Anxiety
Though there are many things that can cause a dog to feel uncomfortable, there are three main causes or reasons for a dog to feel anxious. Once you figure out which one it is, the symptoms all fit and treatment usually become easier.
Fear-based anxiety can be caused by simple loud noises, strange people, animals or objects, new and unfamiliar smells, or probably the most problematic for humans- fear of injury and harm.
For example, imagine you see a small dog huddled in the corner of his crate at a shelter, shivering and crouched, tail tucked and avoiding eye contact. This dog is suffering from fear-based anxiety, possibly fearing humans or the other shelter animals along with this new, strange environment he’s not used to.
Sometimes, all this takes is simple ‘counter-conditioning’, pairing what your dog fears with something he enjoys enough to dismiss the fear. Eventually, he will no longer fear what he once did. On the other hand, fear-based anxiety can be very difficult to cope with, especially in dogs suffering from past trauma, and sometimes requires the help of an accredited animal behaviorist.
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety don’t like being separated from owners or other animals, feeling uncomfortable when alone. This is very common, affecting an estimated 14% of dogs according to the American Kennel Club (which is a LOT).
This happens most often to dogs used to being around people suddenly left alone for long time periods, or dogs coping with owners that come home angry.
To cope with this, you want to slowly condition your pet to be alone. For example, start out with 20 minutes, 30, 50, an hour, an hour and a half, 3 hours, etc. The process needs to be very gradual, and you can’t greet your dog with punishment. He needs to learn you will come back to him every single time (which is probably what he fears), and your return will only ever mean good things for him.
Age-related anxiety is also common in older dogs, a fact of life. A memory, awareness, learning, and perception begin to decline, anxiety becomes expected. This takes an owner who is sympathetic and understanding to help cope with the confusion an older dog is dealing with.
If your dog is showing signs of anxiety It’s best to make an appointment with your vet. There are many treatments such as anxiety vests, medication (prescribed by your vet), training techniques to use and more. So if you have any concerns about your furry friend there are options! Talk with your vet, and see what he or she thinks!