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What Causes Dog Anxiety? + 4 Fool-Proof Ways to Calm Your Pet Down

The sweaty palms, the racing of your heart, and that general feeling of restlessness and unease paralyzing your entire being: these signs all spell out and point to anxiety. While it is a predominantly human problem, anxiety is also a pressing issue many pets face.

Research shows that dogs are more likely to develop the condition than other pets. Worried dog parents may ask: what causes dog anxiety? How can one calm their pet down during an anxiety episode? How can pet owners even determine that their dog is experiencing anxiety?

Let’s dive deeper into the inner workings of pet anxiety, discover what causes anxiety in dogs, and how to handle the condition.

How Does Anxiety Manifest in Dogs?

Before discussing the possible causes behind anxiety in your furry friend, owners must first learn what signs and behaviors indicate the condition in their pets. Some dog parents may overlook early warning signs and interpret them as normal or silly behavior.

However, these seemingly subtle and insignificant behaviors may point to something as serious as anxiety. Recognizing common anxiety symptoms will help dog parents identify the root of the problem and determine how to deal with it.

Anxiety can affect all dog breeds, and while its manifestation in each breed may differ, dogs display similar behaviors that point to the condition. 

Below are some behaviors every dog owner must keenly observe:

  • Irregular toileting patterns (frequent urination, defecation, and peeing inside the house, etc.)
  • Aggressive and destructive behavior towards other dogs, humans, and things (destroying furniture, barking, growling, etc.)
  • Drooling, panting, pacing, and shivering regardless of the weather
  • Reduced appetite
  • Excessive licking and chewing
  • Tail tucking
  • Inability to hold eye contact
  • Evasion and escape

Picking up on these behaviors and how frequently your dog exhibits them can help promptly address the condition in your pet, allowing you to prevent the disorder from worsening further. 

5 Reasons Behind A Dog's Anxiety

If you’ve noticed that your pet repeatedly shows two or more behaviors listed above, your dog may be experiencing anxiety. The next logical step after learning the symptoms is identifying and understanding what is causing anxiety in your pet. 

Experts have identified five primary reasons that make a dog anxious:

  1. Separation anxiety
  2. Age-related anxiety
  3. Fear of the environment and various stimuli
  4. Social anxiety
  5. General anxiety

Separation Anxiety

Most toddlers cry and cling to their parents or guardians during drop-offs in preschools and daycares. It might seem silly to adults, but to these children, the idea of being away from their parents, even for only a few hours, is enough to induce significant distress. 

While separation anxiety primarily occurs in young children, this condition may also manifest in dogs. With how attached they are to their owners, many dogs become sad when their owners leave home. 

However, dogs with separation anxiety may become extremely upset when separated from their owners or families or left alone. They howl, bark, and whine. They may engage in destructive and aggressive behavior, like chewing and biting furniture or peeing and pooping inside the house.

Separation anxiety is a prevalent issue in dogs, affecting more than 75% of their population in 2021. This condition may have developed due to several factors, such as 

  • being abandoned by their previous owner,
  • being placed in a shelter,
  • previous negative experiences when left alone,
  • trauma during their stay in a dog shelter, and
  • the duration of abandonment.

Fear-related Anxiety

Besides their attachment to their owners, dogs may become anxious and agitated because of certain external factors. Like separation anxiety, fear-related anxiety may develop due to previous experiences

For example, they may develop anxiety triggered by overstimulating stimuli, such as loud noises during thunderstorms or fireworks and uncommon objects, like umbrellas. This is because the sounds remind them of a previous traumatic event. 

They may also show signs of stress in foreign environments or during unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations, such as going to the veterinarian for the first time, entering a car, moving to a new home, and more. 

And when around strangers, a dog excessively barks and tends to display anxiety or aggression. They may feel anxious about strangers because their scent reminds them of an abusive past owner.

Age-related Anxiety

To your knowledge, your dog hasn't suffered any traumatic events that could trigger fear-related anxiety, and they don't feel distressed when you leave for work. And yet, they're still showing symptoms of stress and anxiety for no reason. In that case, your pet may have age-related anxiety due to an underlying condition.

Like humans, dogs' physical and mental health inevitably deteriorates as they age. As a result, geriatric dogs may develop several mental health issues, such as cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). CDS is the pet equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease, a condition that results from the regression of the pet’s brain.

CDS negatively affects the dog's cognitive function, causes confusion, and triggers age-related anxiety. Senior dogs with anxiety may excessively drool, pant, pace, howl, and bark. They may also have trouble sleeping, often waking during the night.

Social Anxiety

Dogs may develop anxiety due to a lack of socialization during their developmental years. Socially anxious dogs may feel restless and afraid when interacting with new and unfamiliar people and animals because they aren’t used to interacting and are therefore overwhelmed.

Affected dogs will appear calm and at ease with their owners and families but may turn hostile and uncomfortable toward strangers. They may also panic upon leaving their homes because the thought of socializing with strangers upsets them.

Some socially anxious dogs are shy, tuck their tails, and cower around unfamiliar dogs and people. Others may show aggression and hostility towards these strangers by barking and howling at them. They may also pee and defecate due to excessive anxiety.

General Anxiety

Some dogs may persistently exhibit symptoms of the condition regardless of the situation, environment, age, and overall well-being. These dogs have developed Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a condition that can be highly disruptive to a dog’s daily life if left undiagnosed and untreated.

Dogs affected by GAD may tremble, restlessly pace, hide, and have trouble controlling their bowels and bladder, regardless of the situation. These manifestations negatively affect and disrupt their normal functioning.

Dealing with Dog Anxiety

Once you’ve learned how to differentiate stress signs, understood what they mean, and discovered what causes distress in your pet, it’s time to learn how dog parents can handle the condition.

How to Ease an Anxious Dog

It’s crucial to understand how to calm down your anxious pet as soon as you notice the warning signs. Doing so will de-escalate the situation and prevent it from worsening. To ease the anxiety your dog feels, experts suggest doing the following:

  • Encourage your pet to do more exercise. Take your dog out for short and long walks outside or simply play fetch with them.
  • Distract your dog with toys. Squeaky and chew toys may stimulate and offer them a distraction from anxiety, effectively calming them down.
  • Give them lots of snuggles and cuddles. Physical contact may ease a dog with separation anxiety, making them feel safe and peaceful.
  • Combat the condition with music. Soothing and mellow music can distract your pet, allowing them to relax and calm down.

Treating Dog Anxiety

If your furry friend continually shows the symptoms above, it’s best to visit a veterinarian and have your dog diagnosed. Dog parents may handle anxiety in their pets through two primary forms of treatment: medication and behavioral conditioning.

Experts may prescribe short- or long-acting anti-anxiety medication, such as alprazolam, diazepam, tricyclic antidepressants, and fluoxetine, to ease the condition of your pet and help decrease potential destructive behaviors.

Your veterinarian may also suggest training your dog to manage their anxiety through desensitization. Through this treatment, a professional dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist will gradually and repeatedly expose your dog to the cause of their anxiety until they get used to it. 

Counter-conditioning anxiety is also another option. Your dog will be positively reinforced or rewarded whenever they are exposed to the cause of their anxiety. Both behavioral treatments work best for anxieties rooted in fears and phobias.

Anxious to Handle Pet Anxiety?

Anxiety is a prevalent problem not just for humans but also for our pets. Responsible dog parents must know how to recognize the warning signs, understand what is causing distress in their pets, and learn how to deal with the condition to prevent it from worsening.

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