Did you know that dogs are the most popular pets worldwide? In a 2016 survey undertaken in 22 countries from Latin America, Europe, Asia, and North America, 33% of the respondents owned at least a dog, followed by cats at 23%.
Recently, a pet ownership study indicated that 58% of Canadian households have a dog or cat. Subsequently, the population of dogs in the country has been rising and hit the 7.7 million mark in 2020.
There’s no doubt that dogs are, indeed, a man’s best friend.
So naturally, you’d want your “best friend” to be healthy and full of life. This, however, is not always the case. Like humans, dogs can suffer from health conditions that impair their quality of life. One of such conditions is anxiety.
In this article, we explore the topic of anxiety in dogs, including the measures you can take to relieve panic attacks. We also discuss cannabidiol (CBD) and its health implications on pet anxiety.
Can dogs have panic attacks?
Without a doubt, yes. But let’s focus on where it all starts.
Pups are typically vibrant, playful bundles of energy that always seem to sniff around and tag objects. At 8-11 weeks old, they reach a significant milestone where their cognitive faculties begin to process fear (first fear period).
During this period, puppies are highly sensitive to scary incidences, and any traumatic experience is likely to imprint into their minds and affect their behavior for a lifetime.
Young dogs go through the second fear period between the ages of 6-14 months. This fear period can be more challenging to dog owners because adolescent dogs can be much harder to handle.
Fear periods last roughly 2-3 weeks and are significant to a dog’s survival in later years. It is believed that these periods develop their “flight-or-fight” instincts and help them increase their chances of survival. This makes sense in jungle life, where the cardinal rule is ‘survival of the fittest.’
However, these stages are somewhat unnecessary in the current world, where these canine buddies are typically well-looked after.
Nonetheless, the fear periods give us opportunities to help young puppies know how to manage fear and build trust to prevent later-life behavioral issues.
How to tell if a dog has a panic attack
So, it’s highly probable that your dog may have had several panic attacks, some of which you didn’t catch. This could be due to the different personalities of dogs and, subsequently, different ways of expressing themselves.
However, there are common signs and symptoms exhibited by most dogs when in panic.
In normal circumstances, panting is dogs’ way of cooling themselves because they don’t have sweat glands like humans. So they use their tongue and mouth to expel heat from their bodies and cool themselves.
But sudden panting can also be a sign of excitement or stress. Ideally, you need to watch for other signs to determine if your dog’s panting is normal or stress-induced.
Pacing is a sure sign that something is bothering your canine friend. Dogs pace to release pent-up energy. This can be due to anxiety or excitement.
For example, if your dog anticipates going out for a walk, it may begin to pace back and forth to let you know it is excited.
Like panting, trembling can signify various conditions in dogs – cold, old age, pain, nausea, excitement, or anxiety. Generally, dogs tremble when experiencing strong emotions, not all of which must be negative.
Drooling can be normal in dogs like Newfoundlands, Saint Bernards, Bloodhounds, and mastiffs, whose head/lips configurations make them incapable of containing the amount of saliva they produce. Other dogs can also salivate excessively when expecting food.
Beyond the reasons mentioned above, dog drooling can also signal that it’s stressed or anxious.
Besides, mouth and throat diseases, tummy upsets (e.g., bloat), kidney problems, and neuromuscular conditions (e.g., tetany, palsy, botulism) can also cause slobbering.
Looking for a place to hide
Dogs, like people, are also drawn to cozy, secluded places, especially when they want to rest. So, occasionally finding your dog under the bed, tables, and other furniture should not cause alarm.
However, if your dog has never displayed this behavior and suddenly starts hiding, something’s wrong. They may be stressed, fearful, or in pain.
Seeking their owner’s attention in a frantic manner
A common reason for seeking attention is boredom. These furry creatures have a lot of energy; if they are not getting enough exercise to release this energy, they will crave attention.
However, if the attention-seeking behavior is abnormal, such as chewing or stealing things, they may be fearful and want help.
Pawing or jumping up on their owner
Dogs are social animals and often want to be around people. So, pawing can be a sign of reciprocating affection or wanting to play.
However, it may also mean the dog is in pain or anxious and wants your help. Dogs paw for attention, so find out why it’s demanding it.
Digging in the bed, closet, or bathroom
Dogs exhibit this behavior for many reasons. For most of the part, denning is an instinctive behavior to make a place comfortable to lie down. They can also do it to mark what they believe is their territory.
But if your dog becomes obsessed with bed-digging, it could be because they are stressed, lonely, or under-stimulated.
The most common reason for vomiting in dogs is dietary indiscretion, especially when they eat something they shouldn’t have. Medically, this behavior is referred to as regurgitation.
However, frequent throwing up may be caused by more serious conditions such as stress and anxiety, viral and bacterial infections, liver and kidney failure, toxins, etc.
Generally, consulting a veterinarian helps you confirm the reasons behind the vomiting.
The common causes of gastrointestinal (GI) upsets in dogs are bloat, overeating, nutrient deficiencies, infections, non-infectious diseases (e.g., kidney stones, ulcers, enzyme deficiencies), and swallowing foreign objects.
However, short-lived stressors such as traveling, change in surroundings, and separation from family members can also cause GI upset in dogs. Stress accelerates food processing in the stomach and can lead to diarrhea.
Dogs urinate for various reasons. They can pee to mark territory and express dominance or to express submission. Young dogs and puppies are likely to pass urine inappropriately mostly because they haven’t learned to control the urge to urinate.
But if your dog has a history of being abused or punished indiscriminately, it will pee to show it recognizes you as the dominant party. It hopes that by doing this, you will not punish it. So, inappropriate urination can also be a sign of fear and insecurity.
Indiscriminate peeing can also mark separation anxiety. Dogs get attached to certain family members, who, when away, make them emotionally distressed. In this context, peeing indicates they miss that person.
Causes of panic attacks in dogs
The causes of panic attacks in dogs are as diverse as the symptoms they display. A sudden feeling of anxiety or fear in dogs could be brought about by physical and/or psychological stimuli.
According to dog experts, chronic stress is the leading cause of panic attacks in dogs. This is often related to anxiety which can manifest in four forms, namely:
- Noise anxiety
- Travel anxiety
- Separation anxiety
- Confinement anxiety
However, these attacks on pets can also happen without any apparent cause.
Phobias vs. panic attacks in dogs
There’s a world of difference between phobias and panic attacks in pets.
When talking about phobia in dogs, we refer to an “intense and persistent fear that occurs when a dog is confronted with a potential threat.”
Phobias often build from previous traumatic experiences. As earlier mentioned, scary incidences during the fear periods can have lifelong behavioral implications on dogs. It only takes a single incident to create irrational fear in dogs.
The critical difference between phobias and panic attacks is that the former is usually lifelong while the latter is short-lived. Similar experiences can cause panic attacks in some dogs and a totally different phobic response in others, depending on how they were conditioned at a young age.
For example, even though many dogs have a sound phobia (e.g., loud noises like thunderstorms, fireworks, gunshots), others are completely immune to the same sounds.
Dog anxiety vs. panic attacks
Anxiety and panic attacks typically cause similar effects in pets, notably shaking, trembling, hiding, increased heart rate, and distress.
While anxiety attacks are often responses to perceived threats, panic attacks can occur suddenly with or without stressor cues.
Further, anxiety attacks typically last longer (weeks or months) compared to panic attacks that last a few minutes or hours.
How to comfort your dog during an anxiety attack
The first thing pet experts recommend when dealing with an anxious pet is to remain calm. Dogs can feed off the energy from humans, so if it senses stress and anxiety in their owner, their condition may likely worsen.
Part of the process of working with fearful dogs entails accepting that. Ultimately, you may not know how much the fear is ingrained in it.
So, being flexible with our views, opinions, and beliefs may be a vital step toward helping a fearful dog.
Get an expert opinion
Comforting dogs with anxiety is often a multi-strategy exercise. Typically, a visit to the veterinarian for a medical evaluation marks the first step. This can help to precisely tell whether the cause behind the anxiety is pain or a condition like old age.
Distract and redirect your dog to play with toys
If you can identify the stressor, protect your dog from it as much as possible. Managing an environment may not be easy, but the returns can be worthwhile.
So, if strangers make your dog anxious, lock him in another room when you have guests over. If it’s thunderstorms or firecrackers, a sound-proof room can help muzzle the noise.
The idea is to be creative in finding ways to distract your pet from known stressors.
Don’t force the dog
Advocates for desensitization argue that controlled exposure to the stressors may help your dog overcome the fear.
However, dog experts disagree, stating that forcing a dog to approach something it considers a threat may worsen the situation. Leave the decision to the dog.
Practice basic dog obedience
Building confidence in dogs can also help them overcome fearfulness. Allowing a dog to experience success raises its self-esteem and increases self-assurance.
Training your dog to respond to commands on cue or perform tricks is a great confidence-building strategy, especially when accompanied by rewards.
Plenty of exercises
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. This also applies to our furry friends.
Play is one of the best ways to help your dog overcome fear and build confidence. This is because a dog plays when it’s happy and, in so doing, enables a feedback loop to develop.
So, the more it plays, the happier it becomes, and the more it plays!
Apart from physical exercises, mental exercises are also great for dogs. They contribute to developing the dog’s cognitive skills, which helps with problem-solving and memory.
Moreover, mental stimulation can be as tiring as physical exercises, so all that energy gets spent anyway. If you’re wondering what kind of games can stimulate your dog’s brain, try hide and seek.
Even fetch can be used to teach a puppy not to steal things!
Take your dog for a walk
The benefits of walking a dog include lower blood pressure, stronger bones and muscles, better cardiovascular health, and reduced stress. Dogs in good physical condition can easily walk for 20 minutes, while those in excellent physical health can walk up to 2 hours at a time.
The general rule, however, is that pet exercises, including walks, should last no longer than an hour.
Does CBD for dogs help with anxiety?
CBD is a wellness trend that’s impacting humans and animals. Even though research on CBD is young, most users attest to its immense health benefits, especially in pain and stress management.
This has seen many pet owners extend CBD use to their beloved animals to help them with various health conditions.
The overwhelming conclusion of a few existing animal studies on CBD is that it has beneficial properties. However, there is need for more research to solidify these early findings.
As mammals, dogs have an endocannabinoid system that keeps the body healthy. It achieves this by facilitating interactions between cannabinoids and receptors in the peripheral and central nervous systems.
The binding action between cannabinoids and receptors is believed to stimulate numerous beneficial biological and physiological processes such as stress and anxiety relief.