Dogs are relatively even-tempered animals and don't fuss much. Mostly, they take life as it comes and will even cheer you up when you're down. It's no surprise they are hailed as "man's best friend."
But despite their good nature, dogs are quite susceptible to many diseases. And just like us, they worry when they fall sick or lonely (yup, dogs are quite social). So, anxiety in dogs is not uncommon. As a pet owner, one of the best things you should strive to give your dog is a stress-free life.
But this is easier said than done – dog anxiety can be beyond your control if it's genetic. German shepherds, border collies, poodles, and retrievers are more likely to have anxiety attacks than other dog breeds. Still, there's a lot you can do to ensure your dog does not suffer from frequent bouts of anxiety.
In this article, we discuss dog anxiety and ways to help these furry companions overcome this condition.
- Dog anxiety is quite common than previously thought – roughly 70% of dogs have a form of anxiety.
- Anxiety is a sign of poor mental health in dogs, so expect more of it as your dog ages
- It is highly unlikely for your dog to get a heart attack from anxiety alone
- Research shows that CBD has anxiolytic effects on animals and humans and may be effective in managing anxiety and panic attacks
Do dogs have panic attacks?
Yes, dogs get panic attacks and, sometimes, really bad ones. Unlike us, who can control a panic attack episode relatively decently, dogs don't know how to manage their feelings well. So, when they get anxious, they can really act out!
According to a recent study, over 70% of dogs have anxiety-like behaviors. That's a great many dogs! The study also showed that noise sensitivity was the leading cause of panic in dogs (32%), with the sound of fireworks being the most dreaded. Other dogs also exhibited general fearfulness, fear of strangers, other dogs, and novel situations.
Some anxiety behaviors, e.g., noise sensitivity (thunderstorms), also seemingly increase with age. Moreover, younger dogs are likely to suffer from separation anxiety and be impulsive.
But why are anxiety behaviors common in dogs? After all, aren't they supposed to be the heroes that protect us from danger? Researchers haven't established why but hypothesize it could be due to many reasons, including their genetic makeup. They argue that dog behavior, e.g., noise sensitivity, fear, and compulsion, is controlled by genes.
Researchers contend that environmental factors coupled with genetic predispositions could likely suppress or promote certain behaviors. The consensus is that anxiety can impair dog welfare. In most cases, poor welfare can lead to problematic behavior.
It is worrying that dog anxiety has increased in recent years. According to a study by a CBD supply company, dog anxiety has increased significantly over the last two years (2020 – 2022). Researchers think this could be one of many effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Signs my dog has anxiety
Like us, our canine friends also experience anxiety at some points in their lives. However, not all dogs develop diagnosable anxiety, hence the importance of knowing the symptoms, causes, and available treatment options.
Here are some easily recognizable signs that may indicate your dog has anxiety:
- Barking or howling
- Running away
- Excessive licking or chewing
- Refusing to eat
- Frequent urination
Other less obvious signs to which you should pay particular attention are lip-licking, lifting its paws, showing the whites of its eyes, and looking away. These signs could signal mild anxiety, but it's important to pick up on them early because they could be precursors to severe anxiety.
Most signs of dog anxiety vary in presentation, frequency, and observability. Indeed, behaviors like excessive hyperactivity and excessive barking may go unnoticed if the owner is not around. Others like inappropriate defecation (and urination) and destroying property can be tracked because often there is evidence left behind.
Stereotypic behaviors like pacing, licking, tail chasing, snapping at shadows, or trembling may be difficult to detect without keen observation. Indeed, according to a Guide Dogs survey, only a handful (36%) of pet owners can pick out the signs of poor mental health, while one in three admitted not even realizing dogs could suffer from poor mental health.
Dog anxiety attack symptoms
Anxiety is one of the many mental health conditions that can affect your dog. The most common symptoms of poor mental health in dogs include hyperactivity and barking, loss of appetite, destructiveness, and, sometimes, low activity levels.
When a dog displays these behaviors, it may be frustrated or bored and looking to do something interesting. Generally, age and energy level dictate the amount of mental and physical stimulation a dog needs. As they grow older, dogs lose their mental sharpness and senses and become easily scared and nervous.
So, besides anxiety, it is equally important to recognize the signs of cognitive decline (CDS) to manage the condition effectively. Similarly, understanding your dog's rate of cognitive decline can help you control its environment and manage anxiety triggers.
If you see any of the symptoms mentioned here, take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. Most of these symptoms often start mildly but escalate as the condition worsens. By the time an older dog displays these signs and symptoms, their CDS may have been present for some time. So, the earlier you take it to the vet, the better.
Why does my dog have panic attacks?
In most situations, determining a specific cause of panic in dogs can be difficult. Often, veterinarians review a dog's medical history, do a physical exam, and propose various diagnostic procedures, such as bloodwork and x-rays, to figure out if a disease could be the underlying cause.
It's important to remember that a dramatic change in behavior in dogs, especially older ones, is generally due to a medical issue rather than a brain condition.
The good news is that panic attack in dogs is commonly associated with certain factors and events. If any of these apply to your dog, it is easier to develop a treatment plan. The bad news is that panic attacks can also occur without any apparent trigger!
That said, here are the most common causes of anxiety in dogs:
- Traumatic experiences
- Environmental changes
- Separation from the mother
- A new owner
- Changes in schedules
Anxiety due to traumatic experiences can be particularly challenging because they are often ingrained in the brain during childhood, i.e., when the dog is very young. This has something to do with fear periods.
During these periods, a young dog's brain develops, as is the "fight-or-flight" response. So, during this time, the dog learns about dangers and threats in its environment and how to respond to them.
The first fear period happens at 8-11 weeks, while the second at 6-14 months. Both last about 2-3 weeks – a trying period for dogs because any negative or traumatic experience will likely shape their behavior for the rest of their lives.
Can a dog have a heart attack from anxiety?
There are parallels between canine health and anxiety. However, on its own, anxiety is unlikely to be the main cause of canine heart attacks. But it can exacerbate underlying medical conditions like diabetes, obesity, vasculitis, and hypothyroidism, which are among known risk factors.
Like in people, heart attacks in dogs happen when certain blood vessels are blocked, cutting off blood flow to the heart muscle. This stops vital nutrients and oxygen from reaching the heart, affecting optimal function. As a result, the heart muscle dies, and so does the heart's ability to pump blood through the body and brain.
The most recognizable sign of a heart attack in our furry companions is collapse. This happens because the muscles are deprived of oxygen and fail to hold the body's weight. The symptoms of a heart attack in canines can be subtle, so it is vital to spot the early signs, as this could mean the difference between a fatal attack and save your dog's life.
How to help a dog having a panic attack
As regards managing a panic attack in dogs, there are a variety of alternatives you can use. Your dog's medical history, behavior, and symptoms will determine the most effective strategy.
Start by trying to distract it with its favorite object – it can be a blanket or a toy. While at it, gently stroke it to reassure and communicate your presence. It is also important to remain calm since dogs have an uncanny ability to pick up energy from people. This explains the belief that dogs can sense fear in a person.
You can also use stress-relief aids like anxiety vests, pheromone plug-ins (e.g., Adaptil), and calming supplements like cannabidiol (More on this later).
Physical and mental stimulation
Mental and physical stimulation is also critical when dealing with a dog in a panicky state. A common mistake dog owners make is taking their dogs on walks to the same place every time. This might help with physical but not mental stimulation. Dogs love new experiences and exploring, so take it to places it's never been when you spot signs of anxiety.
Control the environment
Logically, removing the potential triggers of panic or anxiety in your dog's environment makes sense. For example, if your dog doesn't like strangers, try keeping it in another room when guests are around.
If your dog becomes anxious during thunderstorms, ensure you have a soundproof room where you can lock it in during a storm. The idea is essentially to make its environment as panic-trigger-free as possible.
Admittedly, it may be impractical to remove some stressors from the environment. For example, if you also own a cat, you just can't give it away to make your dog happy. In such scenarios, you can desensitize.
This means teaching the dog to accept the cat as part of the family. You can do this using treats. So you start by putting the cat at a distance and having the dog nearby. When the dog starts showing panic signs, calm it down by patting it and giving it a treat. This goes on until the dog no longer frets when it sees the cat around.
Gradually close the distance between cat and dog, always remembering to calm the dog with its favorite treats whenever it starts to panic. With time it will associate the cat with the good treatment and stop reacting negatively towards it.
Anxiety prevention music for dogs
If you thought humans are the only creatures that appreciate music's therapeutic effect, think again! It turns out your dog might actually need music when stressed out. But just not any music, soft rock, classical music, and reggae, have been scientifically shown to significantly reduce stress levels in dogs.
So next time you see your pup or adult dog looking anxious, turn on some music and enjoy the both of you.
CBD for dogs benefits
CBD also holds much promise in managing various dog disorders. However, we want to point out that nothing is conclusive yet, so it is advisable to consult a qualified vet when your dog has a health problem.
That said, our Premium CBD Pet Drops may help your dog become calmer when stressed. CBD's potent anxiolytic properties have been demonstrated and replicated in many animal studies leaving less doubt as to its ability to induce stress-managing effects in humans and animals.
What's more, this CBD oil is infused with organic ingredients and comes in flavors pets absolutely love!
Check out the video below to learn three secret tips on how to stop dog anxiety fast!