Dog Knowledge

Anxiety in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and How to Help

Written By: Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva, VMD, cVMA | Professional Services Veterinarian, Wild Earth

We all love to see our pup’s tail wag. But did you know tail wagging can also be a sign of anxiety?

There is no arguing that dogs feel emotions – anxiety included. While we wish our fur babies could be happy all the time, experiences and changes may impact their emotions. Anxiety is a normal emotion, but if left unchecked and untreated, it can lead to behavioral issues. 

The good news is that if your fur baby is experiencing these emotions, you  can help! In this article, I will discuss common causes of anxiety, identify behaviors to watch out for, and highlight some of the ways you can help your fur baby.

Causes of Anxiety in Dogs 

Like humans, some dogs are more prone to anxiety than others. Many factors play a role in predisposition to anxiety including stress and anxiety experienced by bitch during pregnancy, early life experiences, and breed predisposition to name a few. 

Anxiety can have a variety of causes. Pinpointing what’s upsetting your dog is the first step to help you treat the problem. 

Separation Anxiety 

Separation anxiety is a common cause of canine anxiety and upset- even more so now that most of us have returned to in-person work after quarantine. Dogs who experience separation anxiety are unable to find comfort when left alone. 

Common signs of separation anxiety are:

  • Barking and howling
  • Destructive behaviors 
  • Urinating and defecating as well as coprophagia
  • Pacing

Fear-related anxiety is just that – anxiety brought on by anything that causes fear. It can be caused by loud noises, unfamiliar environments, certain situations or people, etc. While many dogs may react to these triggers briefly, dogs prone to anxiety may be greatly affected.

Generalized Anxiety

For some dogs, there is no trigger for anxiety. It could be that past triggers have gone unnoticed and now grown to a general state of anxiety. Or your dog may be prone to anxiety due to their breed or experiences. These dogs do best when kept on a consistent schedule.

Breeds that are prone to anxiety include:

  • German & Australian Shepherd
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Vizsla
  • Border Collie
  • Shorthair Pointer
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Bichon Frise
  • King Charles Spaniel
  • Greyhounds
  • Havanese
  • Many toy breeds

Age-Related Anxiety

Older dogs with cognitive dysfunction may experience anxiety and confusion as they begin to develop cognitive dysfunction, as memory and senses begin to decline. 

Situational Anxiety

It is not uncommon for dogs to feel situational anxiety. If you are moving or welcome a new baby, expect some anxiety from your dog for the first few weeks. New babies, for example, disrupt routine and can generate canine anxiety due to the noise and attention they generate. 

Symptoms of Anxiety in Your Dog 

Although the causes of dog anxiety can vary, there are a few classic symptoms that tip a dog’s hand to the observant owner. 

  • Aggression 
  • Urinating or defecating in the house 
  • Tail wagging 
  • Panting
  • Destructive behavior 
  • Excessive barking 
  • Restlessness 
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Circling or pacing

How You Can Help With Your Dogs Anxiety

Now that we know the causes of canine anxiety and how to spot it – what can you do to help? 

1. Pheromone Dispensing Therapy

For many anxious dogs, pheromone therapy can help. Speak with your veterinarian to determine whether this can possibly help your dog.

Pheromone therapy comes in sprays, diffusers, and collars. Sprays are best for travel, and diffusers are best to use in home, generally in the room your dog spends most of their time. If you are moving, I always recommend plugging a few diffusers in the new house before bringing your dog there for the first time. This is also a great option for dogs with separation anxiety. 

Pheromones (specifically Adaptil) work to help your dog relax by emitting a synthetic copy of the pheromone a puppy’s mother emits after birth to calm and reassure her puppies. These pheromones can have this same calming effect on adult dogs in stressful situations. 

2. Calming Supplements

In addition to pheromones, calming supplements can help for dogs with mild anxiety. These products contain ingredients known to calm dogs. Some examples include:

  • C.E.T. Veggiedent Zen
  • Composure Pro Chews
  • Solliquin Soft Chews & Chewable Tablets

Keep in mind that some or all of these may not be plant-based.

3. Counterconditioning

If your dog is experiencing anxiety surrounding a specific trigger, try to associate that trigger with something good. For example, if your dog is experiencing separation anxiety, you may want to offer them a Kong toy filled with peanut butter when you leave. This way, they associate you leaving with receiving a special treat. This may not work for more severe cases of separation anxiety, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

4. Create a safe space

Having a safe space with blankets, toys and maybe even something that smells like you, is a great option for your dog. If they experience anxiety when strange people visit, for example, they can go to this area to escape their trigger. It is important to allow your dog to enter and exit this safe space as they please.

5. Environmental Enrichment

Stimulation is an important part of life, and as such, environmental enrichment can keep dogs busy and decrease anxiety. Dogs that spend all day alone at the house might benefit from a dog walker. Alternatively, dogs that need more attention than you can give may respond positively to puzzle toys.

These enrichment toys don’t need to be expensive. A homemade hide and seek puzzle involving cardboard and a favorite treat will be as effective as anything on Amazon. The important thing is to get your dog active and interested in its surroundings again.

6. Spending Time With Your Dog

Especially when it comes to situations such as introducing a new baby to the family, make sure you still make time where it’s just you and your fur baby. Even carving out 15 minutes to spend playing or snuggling can help decrease stress and anxiety in your dog.

7. See Your Vet or Veterinary Behaviorist

The most important aspect of treating anxiety is speaking to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will help identify the type of anxiety and possible triggers, rule out potential contributing medical conditions, and come up with a treatment plan. Treatment usually involves training, supplements, and, if necessary, medication. 

Conclusion 

Like people, dogs experience anxiety for all sorts of reasons. And since dogs can’t talk, getting to the root of the problem can be challenging.

The important thing is that you know your dog best, so stay attuned to their behaviors and consider how sudden changes can affect them.

Finally, never underestimate the value of a cuddle by the tv or walk in the park. After all, dogs are man’s best friend for a reason.

Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva, VMD, cVMA

Dr. Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva is the Professional Services Veterinarian here at Wild Earth. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Brown University, and attended veterinary school at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in general practice, on telehealth platforms, and in animal rehabilitation. She has worked tirelessly to gain expertise in the field of canine nutrition through numerous certifications and coursework, and plans to pursue her Masters in Animal Nutrition.

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