In this day and age, it’s hard not to feel a little anxious sometimes. Life moves quickly and, with the advent of the Internet and social media, it seems like there is always something to think about. There are more and more people opening up about their struggles with anxiety, but humans aren’t the only ones that deal with anxiety. Dogs experience anxiety as well. For most pups, just like with humans, a little bit of anxiety is healthy. When dogs show signs of anxiety frequently and in certain situations, then they may have an anxiety disorder. Recent studies have also shown that humans may have a greater impact on their dog’s emotional state than believed in years past. This article will explore the signs and causes of dog anxiety as well as some of the emotional impacts humans have on their canine companions.
Just like humans, a lot of things can cause dogs to feel anxious. Some of the most common causes of dog anxiety are fear, separation, and aging. Let’s explore each of these causes in-depth.
This type of anxiety is usually caused by loud noises, strange people or animals, visual stimuli like hats or umbrellas, new or strange environments, specific situations (veterinary offices, car rides, etc…) or surfaces like grass or wood floors. Although some dogs may have only a brief reaction to these stimuli, they may have a greater impact on anxious dogs. Fear-related anxiety is the most common form of anxiety in dogs with anxiety disorders. Most dogs are afraid of new places, but dogs with anxiety disorders may shake and exhibit extreme discomfort in new or uncomfortable situations. It is best to understand what stimuli make your pup anxious and work out methods of calming them down in these high-stress situations.
Separation anxiety is reported to affect ~14% of all dogs. Dogs with separation anxiety are unable to find comfort when they are left alone or separated from their family members. Dogs often express this form of anxiety through undesirable behaviors such as urinating and defecating in the house, destroying furniture and furnishings, and excessive barking. If your pup gets separation anxiety there are methods to help keep them calm like leaving the TV or radio on so they hear people talking. If your dog gets separation anxiety, consider their behavior when you leave them alone and make sure they are in a safe environment.
This form of anxiety affects older dogs and can be associated with cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). In dogs with CDS, memory, learning, perception and awareness start to decline, similar to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in humans. These cognitive issues lead to confusion and anxiety in senior dogs.
Symptoms of Dog Anxiety
The most common symptoms of dog anxiety are:
o Urinating or defecating in the house
o Destructive Behavior
o Excessive Barking
o Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
Some of these symptoms may be the result of occasional anxiety-causing events, but any of these can become recurrent, resulting in more serious issues. The most dangerous symptom of dog anxiety is by far aggression. This aggression can be targeted directly or indirectly, depending on the situation. Direct aggression occurs when a dog acts aggressively toward people or other animals. Indirect aggression occurs when some factor, be it a dog or a person, gets in the way of a dogs direct aggression target. If you know your dog gets aggressive when anxious, try your best to avoid situations that trigger this anxiety when possible.
Treating Dog Anxiety
The best way to treat dog anxiety is to talk with your veterinarian and identify your dogs’ triggers and potential ways of easing anxiety in those situations. Your veterinarian will help you come up with a treatment plan. Since excessive anxiety is often caused by a variety of factors, the best way to treat it is usually through a combination of training, preventative strategies, and in some cases, medications. Training usually involves extensive behavioral training with an expert in order to curb negative behavioral responses to anxiety. Training can also help your dog deal with situations that bring about stress and anxiety. In terms of medications, many veterinarians prescribe SSRI’s and anti-depressants for dogs with anxiety disorders. For predictable anxiety-producing events like thunderstorms, fireworks, or car rides, your veterinarian might prescribe benzodiazepines in conjunction with an antidepressant to help your dog cope with the stress. Some pet owners and veterinarians recommend dog safe CBD products to cope with low-grade anxiety and many people advocate it for low-grade anxiety events in dogs.
The Emotional Connection Between Humans and Dogs
Everyone has noticed a time where it seems like your dog was reading your mind. Whether it’s laying down with you when your sick or jumping into your arms after a tough-day, dogs always seem to know how we feel in any given moment. Dogs have evolved since they were first domesticated to interpret non-verbal cues in people. This stems from the domestication process. Dogs that could readily respond to humans, both direct commands and their indirect body language, had an advantage over their more wary and socially challenged counterparts. Some people are naturally more anxious and emotionally reactive, a trait called neuroticism. Experts have hypothesized that an owner with self-reported anxiety could cause chronic stress in their pet. The research team recruited 58 dog-owner pairs, including 33 Shetland sheepdogs and 25 border collies. To discern stress levels, the research team measured the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their hair and fur. The only major variable that corresponded to the dog’s anxiety level was their owner’s anxiety level. In other words, an owner with a high amount of cortisol in their hair also had a dog with a high amount of cortisol. The relationship didn’t work in the reverse direction. There was no evidence that anxious dogs created nervous owners. Instead, the dogs likely picked up on subtle changes such as differences in their owner’s body odor and behaviors such as pacing, nail biting, and irritability. Even if you are anxious, owning a dog is never a bad thing. In fact, the Anxiety Disorders Association of America recommends adopting a pet as a potential way to cope with the stressors of everyday life. Medical research has also shown being around dogs can lower blood pressure.
This is just a brief glimpse into the world of dog anxiety and the emotional relationship between humans and dogs. There is a lot more research out there but these tips are a good place to start. Let us know how you help your pup with their anxiety!
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