According to a new study from the University of Helsinki in Finland, which analysed the behaviours of 13,715 dogs from 264 different breeds, more than 70% of dogs display behaviours relating to anxiety. Of those, the study’s first author Milla Salonen found that 32% suffered from noise anxiety, with 26% being scared of fireworks in particular; 29% suffered from general anxiety, with triggers including other dogs, strangers, and new or unfamiliar situations; and 15% suffered from separation anxiety.
There is no conclusive evidence as to why dogs develop anxiety, but victims or cruelty, abuse or neglect may be especially prone to it. Anxiety can also be triggered by loss of a loved one(s) – as seen with those in shelters, who have lost their ex-family. It could even be triggered by less dramatic changes, such as a change in schedule, residence, or household membership!
Unable to express themselves like their human companions, anxious dogs may exhibit problematic behaviours – almost like a cry for help. According to Salonen, 14% of dogs suffering from anxiety displayed aggressive behaviours.
Other symptoms of anxiety can include:
Separation Anxiety is the most recognisable form of anxiety in dogs. Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety might destroy your furniture, urinate in the house or try to break out of the doors or windows. You might notice that your dog’s behaviour seems to change as soon as you get home.
Previously abused dogs may bark at new people, growl when you try to touch them, or refuse to leave the house. Some dogs start to show signs of anxiety as they get older. In many cases, this a result of the mental decline caused by cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). Your dog might experience confusion and agitation more often, leading to increased levels of anxiety. Your vet might be able to suggest CDS treatments that will help to calm your dog.
Anxiety in dogs can manifest in many ways – so before writing your dog off as “badly behaved” or “poorly trained”, seek veterinary advice to determine whether there is an underlying cause for their behaviour.
These symptoms are not always a clear indicator of anxiety – however if your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms over a long period of time, it might be time to get a professional opinion. It could be that they do not have anxiety and there is actually a separate underlying issue. It can be hard to recognise what is really wrong with your dog, but your vet might be able to suggest a few treatment options.
Though anxiety is a worrying affliction, an experienced vet will have an arsenal of treatment options available to you and your anxious dog, including prescription drugs if necessary. If your dog is suffering from CDS, your vet may be able to prescribe medication to ease the symptoms of cognitive decline. Your vet may also be able to prescribe medication that you can administer if you know your dog will be in an anxiety-inducing situation.
If you’d prefer a more natural remedy, try CBD oil.
However, DO NOT USE CBD OIL FOR HUMANS. Most vets recommend using CBD that is made specifically for dogs as it is better suited for their physiology. Your vet may also have other natural remedies for anxiety available – so ask!
If you would like to avoid medicating your dog, it is possible to train the anxiety out of them. A common form of anti-anxiety training is very similar to exposure therapy – it involves desensitising your dog to situations that usually cause anxiety. For example, if your dog has anxiety about car rides, you could start by gradually introducing your dog to the vehicle, guiding them to sit in the car, taking them for short rides, and so forth. As your dog becomes more comfortable with the source of anxiety, they are less likely to exhibit problematic behaviours.
In any case, it’s best to talk to your vet before you make any major decisions. Here’s what Dr. Curd with Ellison Drive Animal Hospital has to say on the subject:
“Treatments always start off with one-on-one consultations with veterinarians to determine the severity of the situation. We do offer all-natural anxiety medication called Composure, and in some situations, we do offer RX-based medication to help ease the anxiety. This is a medication that the pet can be weaned off of. Another option is offering behavioral treatment with professionals”