Dogs experience stress, anxiety, and rumination, just like we do—especially amidst the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, our canine companions can’t speak up when they’re battling to cope, or feeling overwhelmed. Nor can they tell us they need an acupuncture session and a day at the doggy spa to unwind!
When it comes to issues like canine anxiety, you need to know the signs to help your best friend.
If you suspect your dog might have anxiety issues, there are many telltale signs and symptoms you can evaluate to confirm your suspicions. You can consult a professional for advice and book an appointment with a vet through Pawzy’s Vet Finder or first try one of the therapeutic options described below.
There are several reasons your canine companion is battling with anxiety. Here are some of the most common ones.
Separation anxiety. Separation anxiety stems from your dog’s discomfort when he or she is physically separated from you. This is the most prevalent cause of stress in dogs, and will be an even bigger problem when many of us return to the office following COVID-19.
According to veterinary expert Dr. Kate Mornement, dogs tend to associate all the best things in their lives (think treats, walks, playtime and companionship) with the presence of people. When they’re alone, it’s likely that none of those wonderful things are there to soothe them. If they haven’t yet learned how to be comfortable on their own, they might experience a feeling of panic.
Fear of loud or jarring noises. Loud noises from fireworks, lightning strikes, and thunderstorms can easily trigger doggy anxiety. It’s natural for dogs to fear these sounds, and they can quickly learn to associate less intrusive noises, like rain, with those events. This means that your dog may become stressed the minute they sense a storm on the way.
Resource guarding and environmental changes. These two contributors to anxiety are somewhat less common than the ones mentioned above, but they’re still prevalent. It might not seem scary for you to move to a new home, take your best friend to the vet, or travel in the car, but for your dog these events can be downright hair-raising!
Even minor changes like changes in your work hours, routine, or traveling schedule can create anxiety in your faithful hound. Resource guarding—that is, aggressive displays intended to scare off dogs or people—can also prove problematic if your dog is stressed out.
It’s essential not to ignore behaviours that we often consider normal or natural when it comes to spotting anxiety in dogs.
Your dog showing reluctance to eat is a great example. You might chalk this behaviour up to them having an upset stomach, but anxiety could actually be the cause.
Here are the most common signs of canine anxiety to watch out for:
Howling, barking or crying when you aren’t at home
Pacing and panting without apparent cause
Shaking and shivering
Cowering and running away
Excessive chewing, gnawing and licking of themselves
Lack of appetite
More frequent urination
There are more subtle signs of anxiety to monitor as well, and we can easily miss these. However, picking them up is crucial, as you may be able to treat these minor forms of anxiety before they become a full-blown disorder. They include:
Showing the whites of their eyes
Looking away nervously
Frequent lip licking
The golden rule for addressing your dog’s anxiety is this: The earlier you spot it, the more likely you’ll be able to treat it effectively.
The reason for this is that if your dog is able to repeat anxious behaviours for a long period, those behaviours are more likely to become hard-wired into their brains.
There are a few key approaches you can take to treat their anxiety.
If your dog experiences separation anxiety, it’s recommended you work towards changing their negative associations with being alone. Change them into positive associations by offering them something they adore, like treats, toys, or items of value.
Dr. Mornement recommends using food puzzle toys to keep them distracted while you’re away. If this approach works, you can slowly increase the amount of time you leave your dog alone for, as long as they were coping alright with the previous time period.
This same approach can be applied to noise-related anxiety too. You need to change negative associations to positive ones by pairing scary stimuli with something your animal loves.
Say, for example, your dog is terrified of traveling in the car. Start slowly by getting them near your vehicle, and rewarding them. The next day, get them into your car and follow that with a reward. On the third day do a quick drive around and offer yet another treat. If your dog needs longer than three days to warm to the idea, work with their individual responses and allow them to take their time.
If your hound is suffering from a more severe case of anxiety, you can treat them with canine-friendly anti-anxiety medications to help take the edge off. Your vet will be able to prescribe a calming medication, or you can try a natural remedy like CBD chews and treats.
There’s no need to give them medication every day unless they absolutely need it to function. Many pet owners only give their dogs medication during stressful times, like long car trips, and just before loud thunderstorms.
Old-school doggy anxiety treatment approaches advocated for never patting, cuddling, or comforting your hounds, lest you reinforce their behaviours. However, more modern approaches suggest touching your dogs and giving them extra love and attention when they are crying, whining, or visibly stressed out.
You can also buy your dog a thunder-shirt, which wraps tightly around their abdomen to simulate a warming hug.
If loneliness is causing your hound’s separation anxiety, getting them a canine friend could help. This is especially true for dogs that once had a furry friend but no longer do.
However, word of warning—if being separated from people triggers their stress, then getting another dog typically won’t make any difference to their behaviour!
If you want to manage your dog’s anxious tendencies properly, you need to plan for them. Doggy day care or dog sitting services are fabulous options if your dog has separation anxiety (and if your budget allows!). Alternatively, you can take them to a trusted friend or relative’s home when you’ll be away for long periods of time.
We suggest creating a safe space for your canine buddy at home where they can retreat and relax during stressful times. Regularly exercising your pet will also help to calm them and level out their energy levels.
Your dog’s anxiety can stem from many different causes and triggers. Thankfully, most cases of canine anxiety can are treatable—but it’s essential you treat it as soon as possible to avoid it becoming potentially dangerous to your best friend’s health.
A dog that is only mildly panicky to begin with can quickly become much worse, harming themselves, escaping the yard, and destroying your home in the process. Know the signs of anxiety and act on them as soon as you spot them to get your beloved fur child the care and treatment they deserve.