Anxiety in dogs is often described as displaying nervous or uneasy behavior that is inappropriate to the circumstances. Dogs without anxiety will appear stressed following extreme situations, which can range from the ding of a fire alarm to the presence of an intruder. Dogs with anxiety, however, will display these behaviors even when they’re not in danger, and are capable of destroying property or lashing out at the slightest inconvenience.
If you feel as though your pup might be struggling with canine anxiety, stay on the lookout for potential warning signs. Should your dog ultimately be diagnosed with anxiety, there’s no need to worry; there are plenty of treatment options you can pursue to help alleviate discomfort.
Signs of Canine Anxiety
The symptoms of canine anxiety can vary, but typically include panting, pacing, inability to sleep or relax, digestive issues, excessive licking, and aggression. Should you be troubled enough by your dog’s anxious behavior to take them to see the veterinarian, you will most likely have to answer the following questions:
- Is anxious behavior constant or intermittent?
- Are there triggers for your dog’s anxiety?
- Has anything been done to treat your pet’s anxiety so far?
To prepare for this visit with your vet, consider jotting down some notes detailing the situations in which these behaviors occur. These details are key in a proper canine anxiety diagnosis, and could shed some light on what changes need to be made in the household (if any) as a result, and what medications are best to treat your anxious pup.
Though pinpointing a source of your dog’s anxiety may be difficult to determine, it is often essential for successful treatment and can help in conjunction with medical management options. Behavioral modification techniques are the mainstay of dealing with anxiety, but if your dog’s anxiety proves to be persistent and harmful, your veterinarian may recommend medication to curb aberrant behavior.
Ways to Treat Canine Anxiety
Depending on the outcome of your visit to the vet, your pup’s doctor might make a series of treatment recommendations that range from behavior modification to medication.
Eliminate the Underlying Cause of Your Canine Anxiety
Discovering and eliminating the underlying causes of canine anxiety is the safest way to improve your pet’s demeanor. For example, if boredom is what plagues your pup, providing them with additional stimulation and exercise for at least 20 minutes at a time, can put them on the path to recovery.
Behavioral Modification & Training
Behaviorists have found success in treating canine anxiety by using positive reinforcement for good behavior and ignoring bad behavior, instilling confidence in your pup by rewarding their personal achievements. Obedience training can also help relieve your dog’s anxiety. You can you learn the basics in our Guide to Training Your Dog.
Holistic treatments for anxiety, known as “calming treats,” often assist in limiting your dog’s anxiety, especially when paired with Dog Appeasing Pheromone plug-in adaptors, which resemble human aromatherapy diffusers and treat separation anxiety, neophobia (irrational fear or dislike of anything new or unfamiliar), and fear of transportation.
Comforting wraps (like Thundershirts, Anxiety Wraps, and Calming Caps) provide gentle pressure, similar to swaddling for an infant, which can calm dogs struggling with separation anxiety or frightened of noise, travel, or nail clipping. Calming caps even limit excessive visual stimulation, covering your dog’s eyes and head and filtering their vision when out in public or any other unfamiliar environment.
If you’re unable to treat canine anxiety with behavioral modification or pinpoint the cause, it may be best to consult your veterinarian and determine which pharmacological methods are best suited for your pet’s specific symptoms.
Sedatives for Dogs
Sedatives are often prescribed as a short-term solution to situational anxiety and can provide a calming and sleep-inducing effect for dogs afraid of thunderstorms or veterinarian visits. Many of these prescriptions can relieve symptoms within an hour and last for 4 to 6 hours, which can provide temporary relief. However, there can be serious side effects associated with every sedative and should be administered judiciously after a consultation with your veterinarian.
Examples of sedatives or drugs with sedative effects used on dogs include:
Trazodone (see more details below)
Alprazolam (Xanax or Niravam)
Anti-Anxiety Medications for Dogs
For long-term treatment of persistent stress-related issues, your veterinarian may prescribe a low dosage of anti-anxiety medication, and progressively modify the dose every 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the results.
Since medications can’t be stopped and started at will, your vet will need to wean your pet off of the medication over a period of weeks or months, depending on if the treatment had the desired effect and if there’s a chance your dog will be symptom-free without pharmacological treatment.
Examples of anti-anxiety medications used in dogs include:
Alprazolam (Xanax or Niravam)
Gabapentin (Neurontin) – (often used with other drugs when there are concurrent pain issues)
Grooming Anxiety: Is a Pet Sedative Necessary?
Visiting a groomer can be a stressful event for dogs, since the process can be rather intimate and it is often conducted by a stranger.
If you have a breed of dog that requires grooming, it’s best to start at an early age and make it a rewarding experience. Professional groomers will often cater the process to the dog’s personality, going as quickly or slowly as needed or starting things slowly with a bath and treats to put a positive spin on each visit.
You should only consider a sedative if your dog is exhibiting aggressive or overly anxious behavior and incapable of calming down despite consoling and positive reinforcement. Be sure to discuss the details of the visit and the extent of your pet’s conduct to your veterinarian, so that they may be able to gauge which type or dosage of medication best suits your dog’s breed, size, and health history.
Medications utilized for grooming sedation include oral capsules and intravenous treatment, which is only suited for extreme cases. Though injection is not ideal, it can be the safest way to treat a pet with severe matting or dermatological issues that require medical attention. Common medications used for grooming sedation are Acepromazine and Trazodone.
Find the Best Solution For Your Anxious Pup
Treating canine anxiety can be a struggle, since dogs can’t verbally communicate their feelings and it’s difficult for veterinarians to pinpoint if an animal is suffering from environmental or psychological causes The safest option is to seek treatment as soon as symptoms are presented and work with your pet to provide a solution.