If you’ve never experienced anxiety, consider yourself lucky. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting over 40 million adults over the age of 18 each year. While anxiety disorders are highly treatable, the stigma attached to mental illness prevents the majority of sufferers from seeking treatment. Fewer than 40% of anxiety sufferers seek help, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA).
Even if you’ve never experienced anxiety, you have some idea what it looks like. You’re undoubtedly familiar with the nervousness that precedes a significant event and you’ve probably worried about your performance at work or in school. For people with anxiety, these feelings can go on for weeks or months at a time and may not even be linked to a specific trigger.
Now that you can imagine what it feels like to live with anxiety, you probably wouldn’t wish it on anyone. What if we were to tell you that your dog could be living with anxiety right now?
Anxiety is just as much a possibility in pets as it is in people and it is more common than you might think. As many as 40% of dogs experience separation anxiety but anxiety can be triggered by everything from a change in routine to a traumatic experience.
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What Does Anxiety in Dogs Look Like?
Your dog can’t just open his mouth and tell you when something’s wrong. As a responsible pet owner, it’s your job to be your pet’s advocate and to do what’s best for him. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to do what’s best if you don’t know there’s a problem. Learning to identify the symptoms of anxiety in dogs is important so you will notice and recognize them if they develop.
Here are some of the symptoms of anxiety in dogs:
- Barking or howling when left alone
- Panting and pacing
- Shivering or trembling
- Hiding or avoiding interaction
- Destructive behavior
- Trying to escape the house or yard
- Reduced appetite
- Self-harm, including excessive licking
- Urinating more frequently
- Restless behavior
- Yawning frequently
The sooner you recognize the symptoms of anxiety in your dog, the sooner you can treat it and the more successful you’ll be. Dogs are creatures of habit and once an anxious behavior becomes ingrained, it may be more difficult to eradicate. Read on to learn some helpful tips for resolving your dog’s anxiety.
How Common is Pet Anxiety, Really?
If the statistic we mentioned earlier that up to 40% of dogs suffer from separation anxiety shocked you, this one will shock you even more: one study found that over 70% of dogs express anxiety-like behaviors. About 32% had noise sensitivity, particularly for loud noises like fireworks, and nearly 30% of dogs revealed symptoms of general fearfulness.
Data regarding pets and anxiety varies greatly, largely because pets can’t speak for themselves. Much of the data collected comes from surveys in which pet owners recall their pet’s behavior. In many cases, however, anxiety symptoms go unnoticed for long periods of time because they are mild or simply because people seem less likely to identify the symptoms of anxiety in pets.
How Can You Help an Anxious Pet?
Every dog is unique and so is every case of anxiety. The first thing you should do when you notice signs of anxiety is trying to figure out what’s causing your dog’s behavior. If you can identify a trigger for your dog’s anxiety, you can take direct action to resolve it. In cases of more generalized anxiety, however, you may simply need to adjust your routine and take steps to help reduce your dog’s anxiety.
Here are some simple things you can do to help your dog with anxiety:
- Stick to a predictable routine as much as possible. Make an effort to keep mealtimes the same and get into a routine for things like exercise and playtime.
- Avoid playing into or amping up your dog’s anxiety. If your dog gets anxious when you leave, for example, don’t spend 10 minutes saying goodbye or make it obvious you’re about to leave. You might even want to switch up the way you leave so your dog doesn’t develop anxiety triggered by your predeparture cues.
- Counter condition your dog by pairing rewards (like treats or toys) with things that trigger anxiety to replace the negative response with a positive one.
- Learn to read your dog’s body language and anticipate his needs. If your dog experiences stress with changes in routine, for example, you might learn to recognize when he’s starting to stress out and make an effort to make the next day more predictable.
- Switch to a Pet Calming Pet Bed. These beds are made with vegan fur and super-soft lining in a unique design that calms your dog’s nervous system, helping him feel safe and secure.
- Consider over-the-counter calming supplements for your dog or look into CBD oil. Prescription medications are an option as well, but you’ll need to talk to your veterinarian about it and decide if it’s necessary and right for your dog.
- Spend plenty of time with your dog and make sure he has toys to keep himself occupied. Don’t force your dog to participate in activities that make him anxious – learn what he likes and feels comfortable with and try to accommodate him.
- Give your dog plenty of opportunities for exercise. When your dog is tired, he’s less likely to be focused on his anxiety. In fact, excess energy can be a trigger for anxiety in some dogs.
- Make time to groom your dog on a daily basis. Nothing is more soothing to a dog than his owner’s touch, so you can kill two birds with one stone with this one. Grooming feels like a gentle massage to your dog and you’ll be keeping his coat clean and healthy too.
- Keep some of your clothes or a blanket that smells like you nearby, especially when you leave the house. Sometimes this is enough to keep a dog with separation anxiety from getting upset.
- Consider a Thundershirt or something similar for times when your dog is most likely to be anxious. These devices deliver a swaddling effect that calms the dog’s nervous system which can help with symptoms of anxiety and fear.
- Try playing some relaxing music to help your dog chill out. Studies show that classical music, reggae, and soft rock help to relieve stress in dogs and may even reduce barking.
- Make sure your dog has a safe space of his own in the house where he can go and relax when he needs to. Have a comfy bed and a couple of toys nearby and make sure it’s in a place that isn’t too secluded but isn’t right in the middle of the action.
It is completely normal for dogs to experience anxious behavior from time to time, especially in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation. If you notice a sudden change in your dog’s behavior or a significant increase in his anxiety, however, it shouldn’t be ignored. Talk to your veterinarian to rule out medical causes for your dog’s anxiety and to determine the best way to handle it.