It’s not all chew toys and tail wagging for every furry friend. Anxiety is a widespread obstacle that many dogs and owners endure. Some varying causes and stressors may be challenging to avoid, but luckily dog anxiety can be alleviated or lessened. As a society, we have expanded our understanding of anxiety disorders within humans, but what about our pups? They suffer from similar symptoms which may seem daunting to tackle, but we have some simple, go-to tips and tricks to keep your pup calm, cool, and collected!
Signs & Symptoms of An Anxious Dog
Every dog has its own set of characteristics, habits, and past experiences, therefore the way they communicate their discomfort can be unique too. The cause of anxiety can also factor into how signs or symptoms present themselves. Dog owners need to pay attention to any shifts in normal behavior, routines, or habits. Top signs of anxiety in dogs include:
- Calming signals such as frequent yawning, lip-licking, shaking off as if wet
- Excessive drooling or panting
- Restless or compulsive behavior such as pacing and excessive licking
- Stressed body language (body low, ears back, tail low or tucked between legs)
- Hiding or avoiding interaction
- Out-of-character accidents (urinating or defecating in the house)
- Abnormal aggression
- Unusual whining, whimpering and/or barking
- Destructive behavior
- Overall depressive, sad, or overly-fatigued state
What Causes Dog Anxiety
It’s crucial to try and pinpoint a possible origin in which the anxiety is stemming from to find solutions for your dog’s discomfort. Causes can look different for each dog, depending on what their “normal” temperament and habits are. Direct reasons for anxious behavior may vary, and some dogs suffer from more severe anxiety than others. There are multiple potential contributing factors, such as a change in environment, a dog’s existing mental state, or physical vitality.
There are a handful of common causes known to induce various types of anxiety in dogs. Knowing these can help owners identify some factors which may be lending to an increase in stress and discomfort.
Separation anxiety is one of the highest reported causes of stress and one of the most avoidable. Owners can lead busy lives, and unfortunately, not everyone has the benefit of taking their pup along for the ride. For many, dealing with this dynamic is just a part of being a pet owner, but it can take a toll on both owner and dog.
Due to the language barrier, we can’t always pinpoint the source of a dog’s separation anxiety, but situations like these could trigger your pup to lose their cool:
- A change in routine or environment including household changes (i.e., loss of a family member or fellow pet)
- Particularly for rescues, history of abandonment or extended stays at multiple shelters
- Deprivation of social interactions
- Not used to being left alone for long periods
Fear Induced Anxiety
Fear-induced anxiety can lead to an array of headaches, including triggered aggression and outbursts. If a dog has experienced trauma—especially common for rescued animals—the backlash of those memories and events can directly induce anxiety. Whether their owner is sitting right next to them in the living room or has stepped out to run an errand, these pups can experience anxiety for varying reasons, similar to separation anxiety.
The severity of fear-induced anxiety in dogs is on a sliding scale, typically depending on the gravity of past trauma. A couple of other common triggers may be:
- Existing phobias (i.e., fear of confinement/small spaces could cause extreme panicking when being crated)
- Loud noises (thunderstorms, leaf blowers, noisy houseguests, etc.)
- Stressful situations or environments (car rides, dog parks)
Physical Illness or Painful Condition
When investigating the cause of a dog’s anxiety, it’s crucial to rule out any illnesses or painful physical conditions off the bat. It is vital to monitor a dog’s normal behavior and patterns in order to notice irregularities. If anxious outbursts are out of the blue and sudden, this could point to a disease- or ailment-related cause.
Consulting with a veterinarian to rule out any medical issues is always the right call if a dog begins exhibiting behavior problems suddenly and with no obvious direct cause. Nonetheless, if a pup is feeling down in the dumps, it is highly probable they will exhibit anxious tendencies.
Aging & Elderly Frustrations
As dogs age, their physical vitality lessens, as well as their mental state. Just as in humans, an elderly dog may suffer from changes within their nervous system, including cognitive dysfunction (forgetfulness, confusion, and such), which can mess with their behavior and overall demeanor. Having trouble seeing, hearing, or simply moving around with ease are common aging ailments our senior dogs endure, which can be extremely frustrating and cause anxious behavior.
How to Treat & Ease Your Dog’s Anxiety
We all want our furry friends to feel at peace living their best lives. In an ideal world, our dogs would always have plenty of toys, infinite belly rubs, and no anxiety. The reality of the matter is that sometimes, anxiety is an inevitable part of a pup’s life. Whether it’s trauma-induced, driven by fear, separation, or just the tale of time, a dog is more than likely to come into some form of anxious discomfort.
No need to worry, though! There are many great natural remedies and tricks of the trade that can keep anxiety at bay, making room for more fun and treats.
Add in extra exercise and playtime
That boost of endorphins humans experience while exercising is a great way to ease stress, and the same goes for our dogs! Introducing extra playtime outside with plenty of room to run around or an added loop in your daily walk can help minimize the onset of anxiety.
Always have distractions and toys on hand
Distractions such as gnawers and other time-consuming treats are a great way to ease anxiety for your dog. Chewing is often misconceived as “bad behavior,” usually because the chewing involves a pair of expensive shoes or our favorite piece of furniture. However, gnawing has been found to provide positive stimulation and is a powerful distraction for canine friends.
Try a compression vest or wrap
Anxiety vests like the Thundershirt have become quite popular, helping many dogs find relief from fear and anxiety. These vests wrap around the dog’s chest to create gentle, comforting pressure, much like swaddling a human infant or snuggling under a weighted blanket. This type of constant pressure releases endorphins, much like a good hug, and can help an anxious dog to relax. If you’re not sure an anxiety vest would help your dog, can try a DIY calming wrap using a compression bandage first—just make sure any wrapping or vest-wearing first happens when your dog is relaxed and happy, to acclimate the to wearing it for short periods.
Use a pheromone diffuser
Just like you might have an essential oil diffuser to help you relax, anxious dogs can benefit from similar diffuser technology containing canine pheromones. Dog appeasing pheromone is created by mother dogs when they’re feeding puppies; it helps the puppies to bond with the mother, and may also benefit adults dogs who are anxious. It’s available as a plug-in diffuser which lasts about a month—worth a try to help your anxious pup!
Give Old Dogs Some Relief
Older dogs suffering from arthritis may display anxious behavior due to physical discomfort, so helping to relieve that lameness can do wonders for their mood. A quality hip and joint supplement is a great solution to relieve those tired old bones! Also, if you’ve got a senior dog who sleeps on any old blanket or a ratty, flattened bed, invest in a quality orthopedic bed (or several) for their golden years. You’ll be surprised at how much more content they’ll be with a cozy and comfortable spot to relax.
Canine Anxiety is Treatable!
Living with an anxious dog can be difficult, but luckily there are many solutions out there to give you and your pup some relief. If you’ve identified the signs of dog anxiety, try some of these solutions and we’re sure you and your pup will feel more at ease.