Did you know that dogs experience anxiety? As an owner, you need to be aware of the signs of anxiety to help your pooch cope, reminded Kelli Scot of ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), a national radio and television broadcasting company.
Anxiety refers to the “anticipation of the unknown or imagined future dangers,” explained vet authored and approved website PetMD. Anxiety leads to bodily reactions that are normally correlated with fear. It can be unhealthy but fortunately, there are treatments available for your anxious dog.
A Survey Done by Thundershirt Explores the Prevalence of Canine Anxiety (2011)
Thundershirt, a website dedicated to treating canine anxiety, gathered nearly 1,960 dogs owned in 1,201 households, reported PR Newswire, a press release distribution website. Thundershirt found that 41% owned at least one dog that currently has or had an anxiety issue. Of the dog population surveyed, 29.4% or 577 dogs suffered from some form of anxiety or fear issue.
Despite the prevalence of anxiety among dogs, 46% of respondents took action to address it. 71% of owners did not feel it was necessary, 29% did not feel like there was a viable solution, and 13% felt that solutions were too costly. 17% of dogs suffered from noise anxiety and 13% had separation anxiety.
Owners cited loud noises such as thunderstorms (86%) and fireworks (74%) as a form of noise anxiety. The most common signs of noise anxiety were shaking, trembling, and cowering (82 percent), hiding (74 percent) and restlessness (69 percent).
Canine Anxiety In Finnish Dogs (2020)
Milla Salonen and colleagues of journal portal Nature studied the prevalence, comorbidity, and breed specificity of seven canine anxiety-like traits, namely noise sensitivity, fearfulness, fear of surfaces and heights, inattention/impulsivity, compulsion, separation-related behavior and aggression in 13,700 pet dogs.
Dog owners were provided with an online behavior questionnaire regarding the study. A total of 72.5% of dogs had some kind of highly problematic behavior, with 32% being highly fearful of at least one noise. In noise sensitivity, fear of fireworks has a prevalence of 26%.
29% of dogs were affected by fear, with 17% of dogs showing fear of other dogs, 15% fear of strangers, and 11% fear of novel situations. Fear of heights and surfaces appeared to be highly prevalent with 23.5% of owners reporting that their dogs were highly fearful of different surfaces and heights.
Aggression was prevalent in 14% of dogs, with aggression toward human family members and toward strangers occurring in 6% of dogs. Separation-related behavior was prevalent in 5% of dogs. Salonen and colleagues found that some anxiety-like behaviors such as being frightened by heights seemed to become more prevalent as a dog ages, cited Maria Cohut Ph.D. of Medical News Today, a web-based medical news outlet.
Younger dogs were more likely to exhibit problematic behaviors related to separation anxiety such as damaging furniture and peeing on the floor. Male dogs were more likely to exhibit aggression while females tend to display fear.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety in Dogs?
Common signs of this condition include barking or howling when you’re not at home, panting and pacing (even when the weather is not hot), shivering, digging, running away or cowering, and destroying furniture. Your dog may also harm itself through excessive licking or chewing if it suffers from anxiety. If your pet is urinating more frequently or not eating food, it is likely that it is experiencing anxiety.
You should also take note of subtle signs of anxiety such as lip licking, showing the whites of its eyes, lifting a paw, or looking away. “They are important because they are precursors to deeper anxiety and if you pick up on them and act, it's less likely to escalate," stated animal behaviorist Kate Mornement.
How Is Dog Anxiety Treated?
1. Behavioral Training
Dr. Mornement recommended working to change your dog’s negative association with being alone to something positive. You can give your pet an object it loves such as food puzzle toys to keep it preoccupied while you’re away, veterinarian Sandra Nguyen said. Gradually lengthen the time you leave your pet on its own “only if it's coping at the previous level," Dr. Mornement added.
For noise, you can also employ a similar approach. Try to pair it with something your dog likes, Dr. Mornement suggested. Let’s say your dog is afraid of traveling in the car. What now? Dr. Nguyen said to get your pet close to the car and reward them. Get them in the car and reward it the following day. After that, you can try driving your dog around and reward it for overcoming its fear. Take your time progressing in each stage since each dog has their own set of needs.
2. Medical Treatment
In severe cases of anxiety, your veterinarian may need to prescribe medication to help your dog calm down. Dr. Nguyen narrated, “I work with animals where they need medication because sometimes the anxiety is so high it inhibits the animal's ability to learn.”
Sedatives are not a great idea since it masks the problem rather than treating the animal’s anxiety, Dr. Mornement said. They do not address the underlying reasons for anxiety either. PetMD said prescription medications are not right for every pet dog and are generally given as a last resort in severe cases.
No, you do not reinforce your dog’s behavior when you’re cuddling or comforting it. Dr. Nguyen said, “It's just like with kids: cuddle them when they're crying." You can also purchase an anxiety wrap to make your dog feel it is hugged.
How Is Canine Anxiety Managed?
It is recommended to plan ahead. A doggy daycare is a viable idea for canines with separation anxiety or you can take your pet to a friend or a family’s home when you’re going away. Dr. Nguyen stated, “If we invite friends of mine out for dinner they get in a dog sitter.”
If your pet is on medication, your veterinarian will perform occasional blood resting to ensure that its body can process and get rid of the medications appropriately. An anxious dog may need to live in a protected environment with as little stressors as possible. That means you can’t take it in dog shows, dog parks, or in any place with large crowds. Don’t punish your dog for exhibiting behaviors related to anxiety or fear.
Don’t let your dog’s anxiety escalate to dangerous levels! It is better to have it treated as early as possible to guarantee success. Monitor your dog’s behavior closely and ensure that you can comfort it amid stressful or fearful situations.