Dealing with dog anxiety can be tough for a pet parent. Often an anxious dog will whimper, cry, and empty his bowels or start shaking. Abused dogs tend to show these symptoms but even dogs that are not used to being left home alone could display signs of anxiety. Let us study some tips to calm an anxious dog and help him get rid of separation anxiety.
What are the causes of dog anxiety?
There are many causes of dog anxiety and below are the common ones:
Underlying health issues can suddenly bring on dog anxiety. If an otherwise healthy dog suddenly becomes anxious or stressed, then the following health issues may be responsible:
- lack of mobility that occurs suddenly,
- cardiovascular disease, kidney problem, deafness or blindness, limited sense of touch.
- An older dog might not be able to move around quickly and as confidently as a younger dog can. S/he might have to constantly compensate for deficiencies.
- Arthritis, blood loss, trauma, infection, hip dysplasia, spondylosis, sensitivity to weather changes.
A male dog with pent up sex drive can stress himself as well as other male dogs nearby. Female dogs in heat that are not ready for copulation will be stressed out while trying to ward off males around her. Spaying and neutering your pet is the only solution to handle these problems.
Lack of sleep
Pets taken to unfamiliar places might find it difficult to sleep. The same is the case when the pet does not get privacy to rest. Pain and illness can also prevent sleep. An overexerted dog that is unable to rest could display signs of anxiety. Also, a pet that is over-exercised but does not get adequate rest can be extremely stressed.
Changes in routine
Death of another pet or family member can lead to dog anxiety symptoms like shaking, lack of appetite, crying or refusing to leave the playmates grave. Dogs can also grieve for playmates they meet on their walks or at the day care, depending on how strong their bond was.
Bullying and aggression by other dogs
A timid, shy and meek dog could display dog anxiety symptoms when there is another older or stronger dog around. Sometimes, the threat can be imaginary in that; the other dog/s may not even be dangerous. However, your pet might feel anxious owing to past trauma or s/he might not be able to distinguish between reality and imagination.
Often the dog cannot understand human language or human expectations. In such cases, he could develop anxiety about being unable to please his master. He will try to work out things based on the tone of your voice or body language, gestures, facial expressions and previous expressions. A sensitive pet can get stressed or anxious due to the owner’s impatience or even punishment for the inability to follow commands. In such a case, the owner is responsible for the dog’s anxiety. He might behave in a way that isn’t expected of him. Owners often confuse their pet by giving mixed responses: for example, you might allow him on the bed sometime, but at other times, you might scold him and tell him to go away when there are visitors. The longer this situation of stress and expectations last, the higher the anxiety.
Harsh training methods
Shock collars, choke collars, shouting, hitting, kicking the pet while training can frighten and stress the dog. Even your body language, tone of voice and stiff body posture can instill fear in the pet.
Nearly 20% dogs suffer from noise related phobias. The phobia of thunderstorms also includes fear of change in barometric pressure, lighting etc. Some dogs are born with the fear of loud noises like those of fireworks or thunderstorms and they will likely never outgrow these fears. Noise phobia often worsens with age. Here are some tips to deal with it:
- Bring your pet indoors and close all doors and windows.
- Run an air-conditioner to drown out the noise.
- Create a food puzzle or maze to keep pet occupied.
- Allow pet to retreat to a comfortable place when the noises start.
- Pet and massage him. Speak to him in soothing voice.
- Consider taking a vacation with your pet to an area where there are no fireworks/thunderstorms.
- Talk to your vet about natural dog anxiety calming techniques like music, pheromones, compression garments (dog anxiety vest), chill pills (containing green tea extract, tryptophan etc).
- Rewards and treats for noise phobia-Find a special reward or treat that Fido likes. Use it to encourage and de-stress him during noisy fireworks or thunderstorms. Choose a reward that will come out only when the dog will encounter these noises –so pay attention to the weather reports. Food loving dogs can also be treated with boiled chicken or turkey bits each time the thunder booms.
Anxiety of grooming salons/ vet visit anxiety/boarding
Many pets do not like strangers handling them or intruding in their private space. They could also fear painful examination, procedures and injections. Therefore, a visit to the vet or the grooming station can be a nerve wracking experience for the pet. Similarly, the strange smell and unfamiliar surroundings in boarding kennels can trigger extreme anxiety in dogs. Many tend to have diarrhea, vomiting or loss of appetite in such places.
A dog that constantly follows his/her owner everywhere is not attached to the person; rather s/he is displaying one of the common dog separation anxiety symptoms. Here are some more signs:
- Sitting outside your bathroom while you are inside
- Peeing or pooping indoors when you leave it home alone
- Chewing furniture destructively
- Excess drooling
- Paw licking
- Being noisy and destructive
- Pacing a lot
- Being clingy when the owners are at home-they will insist on always being close to their humans
- Refusing to eat or drink.
- Moving owner’s things around
Constant barking and destruction of furniture are some of the common causes of dogs being given away.
Causes of separation anxiety in dogs
Separation anxiety is a disorder of hyper-attachment. Dogs with this type of anxiety have a physical panic response when their beloved human leaves them. They become attached to one person in the household –typically a person they spend the most time with. Dogs also have a keen ability to read their environments-they associate cues or stimuli which precede their person’s absence. These include picking up keys, wearing shoes, wearing outside clothes etc. The moment their human does these things, the dog might show symptoms like shaking, crying, pacing, urination/defecating, aggressively attempting to block the human from leaving.
Which dogs are most prone to separation anxiety?
Almost any dog breed can develop separation anxiety. However, Weimaraner or the Grey Ghost is particularly known to display this behavior as he is genetically bred to hunt close to his owner. Also, dogs raised in single owner homes are likely to display separation anxiety. It can also affect dogs raised in single or multi dog households. Male and female dogs can both show this behavior. Re-homed dogs brought from shelters also show this behavior.
Different forms of separation anxiety
This particular form of anxiety can take on many different forms:
- Some dogs become anxious when they are left alone all day; others can get anxious even if they are left alone for a few minutes.
- Sometimes, the dog will be fine if there is a pet sitter or some other family member at home when the person he/she is attached to leaves. In other cases, the presence of another human does not matter –the dog is anxious when his beloved owner leaves.
- A dog might suddenly develop separation anxiety owing to certain trauma, seasonal thunderstorms or fireworks.
- Senior dogs can suddenly start showing separation anxiety due to cognitive changes.
- Dogs can develop anxiety when their person’s schedule suddenly changes after years.
Diagnosis and treatment
Talk to your vet about your pet’s separation anxiety. The vet might order certain tests including urine and blood reports. These are necessary to rule out underlying medical problems like diabetes, infections etc. Based on your pet’s age, the vet might recommend seeing a dog behaviorist. This specialist will ask you many questions about your pet’s behavior. Based on your responses, she/he might suggest medication or therapy.
Dog anxiety medication
Dog anxiety medication like Valium and Buspirone have shown great results in treating symptoms. However, medicines alone rarely cure the problem. For one, they must be given 4 hours before the symptoms occur. Secondly, these medicines are quickly eliminated from the pet’s body; so you’d need to re-administer them after 4-6 hours. Clorazepate dipotassium is useful for thunderstorm phobia-owners can invest in a barometer and watch out for changes. Based on the reading, they can administer the medicine to their pet.
Side effects of dog anxiety medication
Dog anxiety medication can give rise to several symptoms like drowsiness and lethargy. Often, these medicines interfere with the dog’s ability to learn.
Natural dog anxiety medication
L-tryptophan based supplements are great for calming anxious dogs. There are also some effective homeopathic remedies as well as floral/Bach remedies such as Rescue Remedy for dog anxiety. You can also speak to a holistic vet about melatonin supplements. These natural remedies calm down the pet and help him sleep. Be sure to ask your pet for the right dose.
Dog anxiety vests and wraps
The Anxiety Wrap is a special vest or wrap that can calm your pet down. Storm Defender is a cape that reduces static electricity which can reduce behavioral issues during thunder storms. Thunder Shirt and Calming Cap fits the body and face respectively; the cap covers the pet’s eyes and helps avoid stress in pets. A product called Rein Coat also calms noise phobia, thunderstorm anxiety, and fear and aggression. It is available in different sizes and can also be customized.
This training is based on the principle of disallowing the anxiety of being left alone to resurface in the pet. For desensitization training to work, it is important that the dog is not left alone for even one minute in the beginning. Later, you leave the dog alone for a few minutes and gradually increase the time until the pet is able to stay alone for hours without any problems. Desensitization can also be used for noise phobias. In this, you use CDs or DVDs to create the sounds of fireworks or thunder. As long as the pet is relaxed, say ‘Relax’ or ‘Calm dog’ and give him a treat. You can also have the pet relax in another room while you play the loud sounds in another room. Gradually, the pet gets used to the sounds and is able to deal with the real stimulus calmly.
I hope these tips help prevent dog anxiety symptoms like shaking, defecation etc.