Dogs are considered man’s closest companions. Known for their loyalty and seemingly natural willingness to please people, they can bring cheer into any home.
However, just like humans, dogs can experience anxiety. Although unpleasant, this emotion is normal, can be healthy and affects all breeds.
Anxiety is something all dogs may experience from time to time. A change in their routine or sudden exposure to loud noises, for example, can bring about significant changes in their behaviour.
If high anxiety levels are left unchecked, a dog can develop an anxiety disorder, leading to behavioural issues such as aggression.
It may be a good idea to consult a veterinary behaviourist to manage or treat dog anxiety and aggression. They can help owners identify the type of anxiety or aggression a dog suffers from and identify the possible triggers.
Installing security cameras in the dog’s area can help owners monitor their pets when they’re not home. They can also share the video with their veterinarian to help with the diagnosis.
A 2020 survey of 13,700 dogs showed that genetics could prompt anxiety and stress in canines . About 72.5% of dog participants exhibited at least one anxiety-related behaviour.
Strangers, loud noises, visual stimuli, and specific situations may trigger aggression, preceded by fear and anxiety.
Although some dogs may only experience a brief reaction to these situations, they may affect anxious canines more consequentially.
If a dog is experiencing fear or anxiety-related aggression, its health and emotional welfare are likely compromised.
Research shows about 14% of dogs experience separation anxiety. Dogs with this condition are unable to find comfort when they’re left alone.
Often, separation anxiety manifests in undesirable behaviours, such as defecating and urinating in the house, continuous barking, excessive licking, and destroying furniture.
This condition affects older dogs and is sometimes associated with cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS).
Dogs with CDS experience symptoms similar to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. In dogs with CDS, perception, memory, learning, and awareness begin to decline. Such a condition leads to anxiety and confusion in senior dogs.
Most people might think medication is necessary to calm their pet’s anxiety. However, many alternative treatments can work, too.
A dog may sometimes mirror its owner’s stress. If a busy work schedule means an owner isn’t taking their dog for regular walks, it may feel more anxious.
Loneliness and the change in routine are all possible contributors to stress. However, they may be eliminated by taking a dog outside to stretch its legs and get some fresh air.
A 2017 study showed that the right music could be effective in reducing signs of dog anxiety. Researchers found that reggae and soft rock music were the most effective, although individual dogs had distinct preferences.
Some dog owners have used alternative treatments like hemp extracts for behaviour management. Studies show that cannabidiol may help facilitate serotonin’s effects in a dog’s body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates behaviour, mood, and appetite.
CBD (cannabidiol), found in hemp and cannabis, may benefit humans and animals alike. When asked about the potential benefits of CBD products, veterinarians reported in a survey that CBD was most helpful for chronic pain by 34%, followed by acute pain, 23%. Some veterinarians also said that CBD helped decrease anxiety and seizure frequency by over 75%.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medication. The procedure involves inserting needles through the skin to stimulate particular points in the body.
Research suggests that acupuncture may help stimulate the release of the body’s pain-relieving substances. These substances may also help treat stress and lessen anxiety.
Acupuncture is actually painless for small animals like dogs. Owners have reported that their pets become relaxed or sleepy when the needles are already in place.
It is highly recommended to have a veterinary behaviourist develop and oversee any acupuncture protocol.
A dog owner may opt to groom their dog by brushing its fur every night. This form of pampering may feel great for the dog as it gets more time and attention from its owner, reducing anxiety.
As a bonus, the dog owner will also have a chance to observe their dog’s skin for any lesions or abrasions due to excessive licking.
Massage therapy may also be helpful. Essential oil can help the dog calm down and relax during the massage. The owner may rub a few drops of essential oil on the dog’s paws for it to lick.
But be mindful that some oils can be quite toxic to animals, especially if they have a cat in the household. Always check with your vet.
It’s difficult to predict what makes a dog anxious. It’s even harder to determine if a dog’s anxiety will lead to a more severe disorder, resulting in behavioural issues.
However, there are ways to help dogs avoid anxiety-related problems.
Proper socialisation may help prevent anxiety. An owner may introduce their dog to new people or other animals to avoid exaggerated responses down the road.
If a dog is diagnosed with anxiety and shows signs of aggression, the owner should avoid situations that may trigger its anxiety.
When a dog becomes increasingly aggressive, an owner may also use preventive measures like body harnesses, leashes, and basket muzzles.
Once the owners know their dog’s triggers, they can prepare for these circumstances ahead of time.
Dog-parenting involves being sensitive to the emotional state of one’s canine companion.
If an owner suspects that their dog is suffering from anxiety or exhibiting aggression, it’s recommended to seek help from a licensed veterinary behaviourist. The sooner treatment is sought, the better chance for improvement.
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1. Prevalence, comorbidity, and breed differences in canine anxiety in 13,700 Finnish pet dogs
2. Behavioural Problems of Dogs
3. Physical signs of canine cognitive dysfunction
4. Canine separation anxiety: strategies for treatment and management
5. The effect of different genres of music on the stress levels of kennelled dogs
6. US Veterinarians’ Knowledge, Experience, and Perception Regarding the Use of Cannabidiol for Canine Medical Conditions
7. Serotonin: Facts, Uses, SSRIs, and Sources
8. An Introduction to Veterinary Acupuncture
Guest post by Casey Bloom