Just like their human owners, dogs have a variety of personalities. Some are gregarious and will happily greet everyone they meet, while others may hide behind their owners when strangers approach. Some are laid back and mellow, others are more high-strung. While it’s normal for pets to express their natural personalities, excessive negative emotions can become unhealthy for your dog’s well-being.
Although it’s appropriate for animals to feel fear and anxiety in response to stressful situations, these emotions should not escalate to the point that they interfere with a pet’s normal life. So, how do you know if your dog’s fear and anxiety are out of control? Let’s look at three common anxiety disorders that can affect your canine companion.
Although startling in response to loud sounds is normal, dogs with noise anxiety—also called storm phobia—perceive loud noises as significant threats. If the noise continues, these dogs react with increasing anxiety instead of realizing that no threat exists and relaxing. Many sounds can cause pets with noise anxiety to become stressed, but some common sounds include:
- Cars backfiring
- Alarms and sirens
- Vacuum cleaners
When dogs with noise anxiety are exposed to loud sounds, their symptoms can range from mild panting and shaking to becoming so anxious that they will destroy a wall or injure themselves trying to escape the noise. Signs of noise anxiety include:
- Drooling and panting
- Pacing and restlessness
- Increased attention-seeking or clinginess
- Refusal to eat
- Vocalizing (crying, whining, or howling)
- Urinating or defecating in the house
- Destruction of household items or furniture
If your dog becomes abnormally anxious during thunderstorms or fireworks, your veterinarian can help determine whether his reaction is normal or if he has an anxiety disorder. If your pet is diagnosed with noise anxiety, the good news is that there are many forms of treatment that can help. Many of them involve desensitization techniques to help your dog dissociate his negative feelings from noises. There are also many products, such as Thundershirts, that can be used to calm anxious dogs. Your veterinarian may also decide to prescribe anxiety-reducing medications if other methods do not help.
All dogs love to spend time with their human companions, but dogs with separation anxiety become abnormally anxious when they are separated from the people they are attached to. If your dog is affected by this type of anxiety, he may go to extreme measures to try to escape when he is left alone and could cause significant damage to your home or even himself. Dogs with separation anxiety are known to:
- Become anxious or depressed as they pick up on cues that their owners are preparing to leave the home
- Bark and howl constantly when their owners leave
- Pace or walk in a predictable path repeatedly through the house
- Urinate or defecate when left alone
- Dig or chew at doorways and window frames in an attempt to escape
- Injure themselves in their escape attempts (broken teeth, broken toenails, and scraped-up feet are common results of incessant digging and chewing)
Separation anxiety is a severe form of anxiety that can be detrimental to your dog’s mental and physical health. If your dog displays these or other destructive behaviors when left alone, your veterinarian can help determine whether he has separation anxiety. Affected dogs can be treated, but improvement will take patience and diligence on your part. Treatment often involves consultation with a veterinary behaviorist combined with calming medications prescribed by your veterinarian.
Exposure to many different types of people and animals at an early age helps dogs become comfortable and confident in different situations. When socialization does not occur—more common in puppy mill pups and stray pooches—dogs may develop an unnatural fear of strange people and animals. When a dog with social anxiety is approached by a stranger, his fight-or-flight response jumps into action. He will likely attempt to escape by hiding behind you or running from the area. If the stranger continues to approach to try to win him over, your dog will feel cornered and may attack or bite to escape. It’s important to understand that a dog with social anxiety is not an aggressive dog, but a dog that believes he has no other option but to attack if cornered.
A dog with social anxiety can be socialized as an adult, but it is a much longer and more tedious process than when he was a puppy. A veterinary behaviorist can help you develop a plan for socialization. Calming products, such as Thundershirts (used for many types of anxiety) and anti-anxiety medications, can also help anxious dogs during socialization.
Questions about anxiety in your dog? Call us today!