Anxiety in dogs

If you think that your dog may be suffering from anxiety, it is important to seek professional help – not only will this improve your dog’s quality of life, but it may also reduce the risk that the anxiety will lead to a serious behavioural problem. An obvious first port of call is your local Healthy Pet Club practice. Once the vets there have ruled out any health conditions that may be causing your dog’s symptoms, diagnosed the type of anxiety, and identified possible triggers, you may find that a pet behaviour counsellor is helpful. This article gives you an overview of this complex topic.

Symptoms of anxiety

The most common signs of anxiety are shown below. Of these, aggression is the most serious because of the danger it poses to you and your family.

  • Trembling, tail tucked in, hiding, reduced activity
  • Urinating/defecating in the house (may include diarrhoea)
  • Drooling
  • Panting
  • Licking/biting body
  • Pacing/restlessness/increased activity
  • Repetitive/compulsive behaviour
  • Attempted escape
  • Aggression (includes growling and barking)
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Withdrawal/depression

If your dog shows any of these behaviours, assessment by a vet is recommended.

Causes of anxiety

Causes of anxiety include:

  • Fear
  • Separation from others (dogs or humans)
  • Lack of social conditioning at an early age
  • Old age (cognitive decline)
  • Toxicity (e.g., lead) or other disease.

Treatment options

The first thing to do is talk to your vet – they can rule out medical conditions that may be causing the symptoms, and can then help you to manage the behaviour and/or guide you towards another professional who can advise you (e.g., a pet behaviour counsellor).

Prevention

If you have acquired a new dog, either as a puppy or an adult, there are a number of things that you can do to reduce the risk that they will develop anxiety. These include:

  • Exposing your puppy to a range of situations and environments, including new people, dogs, other animals, places and experiences, before the age of 14 weeks
  • Learning to interpret your dog’s body language so that you can avoid bad experiences, or use them to train your dog
  • Ensuring that your dog is obedient
  • Providing good nutrition and adequate regular exercise
  • If your dog has a history of anxiety, avoiding known triggers
    • If you cannot guarantee avoidance of the triggering situation, being prepared to prevent development of a dangerous situation – this may include always having a leash, a harness or a muzzle handy.

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