“What can I give my dog for anxiety?” is a question that veterinarians get all the time from well-meaning pet parents. It’s common because so many dogs suffer from anxiety.
Anxiety in dogs can be tricky to navigate. For one, we humans feel awful when we know our dogs are suffering. On top of that, many anxious dogs do “bad” things, like urinate inside the house, nip at strangers, and bark for hours on end.
These behaviors make dog anxiety even more difficult to deal with. So what can you do if your dog has anxiety? Read on to find out.
What Causes Anxiety in Dogs?
Just like with humans, canine anxiety can be triggered by a number of things. The four most common causes are:
Separation Anxiety in Dogs
You may be dealing with a case of separation anxiety if your pup…
- Stresses out when you leave
- Destroys stuff when you’re gone
- Follows you from room to room when you’re home
- Is over-the-top excited when you come back
- Seems to be watching you suspiciously (even before you leave)
Of all the types of anxiety, separation anxiety is the most common. According to the American Kennel Club, separation anxiety affects 14 percent of all dogs.1
Most dogs don’t love it when their human leaves, but separation anxiety goes beyond the occasional mournful bark or deep sigh. Dogs with separation anxiety are acutely stressed when pet parents leave.
Here are some signs and symptoms of separation anxiety:
- Excessive barking or howling. Dogs with separation anxiety may bark the entire time their owner is gone.
- Destructive chewing
- Desperate attempts to escape, including scratching, digging, or chewing by windows and doors.
- Intense pacing
- Excessive salivation, drooling, or panting
- Urination or defecation when left alone2
Watch your dog’s behavior and pay attention to when they are acting out. Dogs with separation anxiety will panic every time their human leaves them alone. If your pet is destroying your house while you’re home, you’re dealing with a different behavior issue.
Why Do Some Dogs Get Separation Anxiety?
Experts agree that dogs can develop anxiety issues from things like:
- A change in owner, or the loss of an important person in a dog’s life.
- An abrupt change in schedule or routine.
- A change in residence.
- A change in family dynamic, either due to death or someone moving away.3
Another common cause of anxiety in dogs is fear. Fear is a normal emotion and in some cases, it’s perfectly rational! If a huge, snarling dog charges at your dog when they walk by, your dog may hide behind you or tuck their tail between their legs. Nothing weird about that!
Fear becomes a problem when your dog’s reaction is abnormal or inappropriate given the situation.4 If a dog goes berserk when they see a vacuum cleaner, or runs and hides when the mailman comes to the door, they may have fear-related anxiety.
Triggers That Can Cause Fear-Based Anxiety
According to the Merck Vet Manual, here are some of the common causes of fear-based anxiety:
- Unfamiliar dogs
- Unknown people, especially ones that look, act, or smell different than people they are used to
- Unfamiliar loud noises, like construction
- Unfamiliar sights, like umbrellas
- New environments, like an unknown house
- Unfamiliar surfaces, like wood floors or stairs
- Certain stressful situations, like the vet’s office
- A combination of stimuli, like car rides5
Some anxious dogs may react specifically to just one thing: like thunderstorms. Other dogs may have generalized anxiety and seem to always be on edge. If your dog is anxious, you’ll want to seek out remedies, as this can lead to destructive behavior.
Why Is My Dog Anxious?
If your dog has fear-based anxiety, it may be because of:
- A lack of proper socialization
- Trauma early in life, like being separated from their mother too early
- A previous unpleasant encounter, like a dog fight
What are the Symptoms of Fear-Related Stress in Dogs?
- Mild fear reactions: trembling, tail tucked, hiding, lethargy
- Panic: actively trying to escape, abnormally hyperactive activity
- Peeing inside
- Licking or biting their own body, which could lead to skin lesions on the dog’s body7
If your dog is showing signs of anxiety, continue reading for ideas that might help.
As dogs age, they can become more anxious. Your dog’s health is changing. Their senses of hearing, sight, and smell may be weakening. And they can start to feel less secure in their bodies.
Symptoms of Aging-Related Anxiety
Older dogs may show signs of anxiety like:
- Changes in appetite or sleep
- Clingy behavior
- Urination in the house8
To help your senior dog, maintain their regular routine. A predictable schedule can be calming for your furry friend. Don’t force them to do things that make them anxious, like meet new people or dogs. Allow your older dog to approach strangers on their own if they choose to.
Anxiety Caused by Illness
If your dog suddenly becomes anxious and fearful, first rule out a medical condition. Certain thyroid issues or internal inflammation can trigger anxiety in an otherwise calm dog. Your vet can help determine if there is a medical issue.
You’ll also want to make sure your dog’s gut health is in tip top shape. The bacteria that live in your dog’s gut can affect their mood and behavior. Gut bacteria produces different chemicals. Some of these chemicals have calming effects and others can cause stress and anxiety. When your dog’s gut is imbalanced, their mood typically is too!
What Can Dog Owners Give Their Pets for Anxiety?
If your pet suffers from anxiety, naturally you’ll want to help them! There are many natural remedies you can try. We recommend going the natural route, unless your dog’s anxiety is so severe that your vet is worried about their well-being.
Natural Remedies for Anxiety
If you go to a conventional vet to treat anxiety, their first solution might be to prescribe an anti-anxiety medication. Tell your vet you’re interested in trying natural remedies first. They may even give you great recommendations.
Don’t be afraid to ask around and get a second opinion if your vet prescribes something. Always speak with a vet you trust before you try medicating your anxious dog in any way.
Here are several ideas for natural, safe anxiety remedies:
Probiotics can balance the bacteria in your dog’s gut, improve mood, and strengthen the immune system.
CBD treats and oil have been shown to reduce anxiety by boosting serotonin. CBD can also help reduce inflammation and pain – which can cause anxiety. It’s important to note that CBD (cannabidiol) comes from the hemp plant, but it contains no THC or psychoactive properties.17
Herbs like chamomile, valerian, and St. John’s Wort can act as mild sedatives that might help calm your dog. These herbs can be made into a tea and added to your dog’s diet, used as a tincture, or given in capsule form.9
Homeopathic remedies, like aconitum, ignatia, or nux vomica can help with fear-based phobias. If you’d like to go this route, ask your vet what they’d recommend.10
Essential oils can help dogs calm down. Grab a diffuser and try oils like lavender, cedarwood, and frankincense. You can also put a few drops in your hands and give your anxious dog a calming massage.11 Many essential oils can be harmful to dogs, so always do your research first and choose a dog-safe oil.
Hydrosols, or water infused with therapeutic flowers, stems, or leaves may help with your dog’s anxiety. You can make these yourself, or order them. Add it to your dog’s shampoo, spritz it on their coat, or sprinkle it onto their food.12
Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) is a synthetic chemical that mimics the hormone produced by female lactating dogs. You can put this in a diffuser.13
The Thundershirt is a popular solution for anxious dogs who get stressed around loud noises. It’s a garment that fits tightly around your pet and can help calm them down.
Anxiety Medication for Dogs
If your dog is suffering from severe anxiety, you and your vet may decide that prescription medication is the best solution. Medicating your dog will be a process. Dogs typically need to be treated for at least a few weeks before you’ll be able to know if the medication is effective.14
After that, some dogs can be weaned off the medication. Others may require lifelong treatment. Prescription medications should only be considered as a last resort for your pet.
Your veterinarian will recommend a medication based on the type of anxiety your dog suffers from. Pet parents can help by closely observing their dogs and sharing their triggers with the vet.
Some medications your veterinarian might prescribe are:
- Alprazolam, common for dogs with anxiety around thunderstorms
- Amitriptyline, an anti-depressant for dogs with separation anxiety
- Buspirone, a medication for dogs who get anxious around other dogs
- Clomicalm, another medication that can be calming for dogs with separation anxiety
- Sileo, a medication for dogs with noise aversion
Before you go with prescription medication, your vet might also try an over-the-counter remedy like Benadryl. Benadryl for dogs can make Fido drowsy, which might help with anxiety.
The Importance of Training for Anxious Dogs
Dog anxiety medication is not a magic bullet! Some remedies can treat symptoms of anxiety. But to truly help your dog, you also need to address the cause. If your dog is showing anxious behavior, we recommend you also bring in an experienced positive reinforcement trainer.
Once your trainer is able to determine the cause of your dog’s anxiety, they’ll work on things like:
- Desentization for fear-based anxiety. Your trainer will help your pup get comfortable with the things that stress them out.
- Counter conditioning. Your trainer will help your dog “unlearn” some of their phobias and form positive associations with their triggers.
- Separation anxiety training. The trainer will work with you to help your dog learn to be alone.
If a professional dog trainer isn’t in your budget right now, you can always pick up a book or watch YouTube videos and try it yourself. Make sure the trainer you learn from is reputable and experienced. Always go with force-free positive reinforcement when dealing with an anxious dog.
Stay Calm And Look At The Big Picture
Whether you try natural remedies, probiotics, CBD, or prescription meds, make sure you understand the source of your dog’s stress and anxiety. Medication alone may not solve the problem.
If your dog has an underlying medical issue, like imbalanced gut bacteria, you’ll want to address this first. Many times, improving your dog’s health through better food and supplements can make behavior problems go away on their own.
Find an experienced behavior modification dog trainer who can help you get to the root of the problem.
Many phobias are learned. With proper training, they can be “unlearned.”
Stay positive. Harsh punishments can only make the situation worse.
Above all else, approach the situation with love and understanding. Living with anxiety is tough for your dog – and it’s no picnic for you, either. It can be hard to remain calm, especially if your furry friend is destroying your house. But remaining calm can help set a positive example.
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