Anxiety is defined by the feeling of nervousness or unease. It’s usually about a specific event or an uncertain outcome of that event. When we think of anxiety, we think of individuals that require therapy and anti-anxiety medication. But did you know anxiety not only affects us, humans? It can affect a man’s best friend just as badly. Anxiety in dogs is a problem that the world is becoming more and more aware of.
Anxious dogs need just as much to manage their anxiety as anxious people. Just about anything can cause a dog to experience anxiety, thunderstorms and fireworks are common examples of culprits of dog anxiety. If your dog is experiencing anxiety or you may think they are, you’ve come to the right place. Here, we will cover all the topics you need to know about dog anxiety, including anxiety medications for dogs to help ease their intense uneasiness.
What are the common causes of anxiety in dogs?
The list is long for what may trigger a dog to feel anxious. Most of which are environmental stimulants of fear such as fireworks, gunshots, a dog next door barking, and even a new dog or human that has joined the household. These examples are that of uncertainness. The dog doesn’t know what a firework or gunshot is, just that the sound is an extremely loud noise, usually repetitive, and very scary. For all the dog knows, it is a fire-breathing dragon coming to steal their soul.
A trip to the veterinarian can also cause dog anxiety, especially if they have associated the veterinary hospital with something bad like a bone break instead of treats and good attention. Again, the veterinary clinic is an environmental change with uncertainty, the dog is in fear causing them anxiety. Specifically, dogs that have not been properly socialized with exhibit more anxiety to environmental changes versus that of a highly socialized dog. In fact, most bites that occur in veterinary clinics are derived from fear versus aggression.
Being separated from their human or companion can also cause dog anxiety. To them, their human is their security blanket. Nothing can harm them when their human is around. Take the human away from a dog that is so dependant on them, the dog will have separation anxiety. Separation anxiety can cause destructive behavior in a dog. Separation anxiety can be helped with training, but sometimes may need a behaviorist for guidance in extreme cases. Especially if a dog is used to having free roam of the house while their human is around, and perhaps their human works at home but has to leave for a few hours. If the dog has never been housed in a kennel, the dog will most likely come completely unhinged and bark constantly or try to tear apart the kennel for an escape.
An aging dog may experience some anxiety if they start to lose their vision and hearing. Senses that the dog was so used to for so long are gone which can cause fear of that uncertainty. If a dog cannot sense someone approaching and is all of a sudden patted on the head, it may cause fear. Sometimes this anxiety can even affect their sleep routine, see “Why Won’t My Dog Sleep At Night?” for more.
Understanding your dog – dog anxiety symptoms
No one on the planet knows a dog better than their human. Your dog is your best friend. You know when they are sick and when something is just not quite right. Being intuned with not only physical symptoms of sickness is just as important as understanding their abnormal psychological problems. A dog’s anxiety can be a big enough problem in a dog that it can affect their overall well-being. Side effects of dog anxiety can include:
- Circling and pacing
- Compulsive behaviors such as excessive chewing/licking at either a toy or their own limb or paw, like lick granulomas
- Aggression derived from fear
- Inappropriate urination and defecation
- Drooling and panting
- Destructive behaviors
Paying attention to your dog’s body language will tell you a lot about how they are feeling mentally. A dog with anxiety may keep their ears back, or hackles may become erect. A dog’s anxiety level may give them that deer in the headlights look. The anxiety becomes such a problem that it can affect their appetite as well.
Separation anxiety is one of the more common types of anxiety in a dog as situational anxiety, a specific situation that causes the anxiety. Dog’s can become extremely attached to their person, especially if they are an only dog. As we mentioned before, a dog without their human security blanket that is suddenly taken away. Dealing with a dog that has separation anxiety can be a long road. Many times separation anxiety requires an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication, sometimes a combination of both.
The combination of dog anxiety medications and slow training can help alleviate separation anxiety. Starting with short trips away from the dog and a treat. Many people that are trying to alleviate separation anxiety in their dog will use a camera to monitor their dog’s behavior. This helps to know if the dog’s anxiety medication is helping as well.
Will anxiety cause behavior problems for my dog?
Dog anxiety can and will lead to behavior problems in a dog if not treated as soon as possible correctly. Dog anxiety disorder can require behavior modification. For example, if a dog is terrified of the vacuum cleaner, it may end up trying to attack the machine. How do you help the dog’s anxiety-driven behavior of attacking the vacuum? The dog may require anti-anxiety medication if the anxiety is bad enough and definitely a safe place the dog knows they can go when they hear the vacuum turn on. A place they know the vacuum won’t come near them when they are inside the house. Dog anxiety disorder can cause aggression and fear biting, a behavior that needs to be dealt with as soon as it is observed with behavior modification with either socialization or positive reinforcement.
What are pheromones and what do they do?
Pheromones are a substance released originally by a dog’s mother to make them feel safe and calm. Thankfully, today, there are artificial dog pheromones that mimic the same. Think of pheromones as a substance released and is sensed by a dog with anxiety that helps them feel a bit more secure.
Adaptil is a common product used by pet owners to help alleviate and greater quality of life of a dog with anxiety without using prescription medications. It comes in a plug-in diffuser to place in the house and a spray that can be applied to a blanket during a long car ride. Many prefer to spray the product on a bandana and tie it around the dog’s neck for them to enjoy.
The plug-in diffuser would be great for a dog just learning how to crate train and dealing with separation anxiety. Dog appeasing pheromones are more of a holistic way to help treat anxiety without using sedation. Although it may not be able to fully take away the anxiety, it is a great product for dogs that have mild to moderate anxiety.
Top tips for how to calm dog anxiety
Dog anxiety disorder is not fun for any dog. If your dog displays side effects of anxiety, the best start is to schedule a behavior to consult with your veterinarian. Be sure to be detailed as to what situations cause your dog to be anxious. Your veterinarian can lead you in the right direction with behavior modifications and medications. Here are some over-the-counter tips to try:
- A Thundershirt is designed to help dogs who experience anxiety during scary times such as a thunderstorm or fireworks. It is made to make the dog feel as if they are being embraced. See “What Does Your Dog Really Think About your Hugs” for a great explanation.
- Calming supplements that contain herbs and Tryptophan can be found in many pet stores and can even be bought over-the-counter in many veterinary clinics. Most come in a chewable tablet so the dog feels as if they are receiving a treat.
- Creating a safe place is important for a dog. This is usually their kennel, a place they know they can run to without being bothered. See “How Do I Crate Train My Puppy?” for more.
- Positive reinforcement is a great way to reward your dog when they take a step towards a situation that causes dog anxiety in the first place.
- Adaptil is the dog appeasing pheromone discussed before. This product is also a great over-the-counter option.
Before trying to figure out a solution on your own, don’t forget to consult with your veterinarian about what is going on. Dog psychologist is one of the many coats that a veterinarian wears.
Dog anxiety medication
If you have tried all you can without medication intervention such as the Adaptil diffuser and a Thundershirt for your dog’s anxiety, it is ok. Many times dog anxiety disorders require medication and treatment to help. Again, this is why it is important to keep your veterinarian in the loop of what is going on with your dog. The following are some examples of dog anxiety medication options that your veterinarian may want to explore to give your dog some stress relief.
Sertraline is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or SSRI for short. This medication is meant for long-term use in dogs that suffer from fear-based dog anxiety, compulsive behaviors, and aggression and to help with behavior modification. Sertraline is also more commonly known as Zoloft. It can come in a solid or liquid form.
This dog anxiety medication should be given with food and exactly as prescribed by the veterinarian. This medication should never be stopped abruptly, instead, it should be tapered off as prescribed. Owners should start seeing a slight change in behavior over a few days in a dog that has started Sertraline.
Side effects can include a decrease in appetite, panting, tremors, diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, agitation, and a high heart rate. It is extremely important to let your veterinarian know what other medications the dog is on before starting Sertraline.
Paroxetine is another choice for a dog anxiety medication. Also known as Paxil, this medication is also an SSRI and is meant for long-term treatment of anxiety in dogs. It is used to help ease anxiety behaviors such as aggression and compulsive behaviors.
An owner may not notice changes in the dog’s behavior for a few weeks when starting Paroxetine. Like many antidepressants, it needs a chance to build up in the dog’s system. It is extremely important again, to stick to the dosage prescribed, stopping this medication can result in withdrawal.
Paroxetine can cause the opposite effect in some dogs, especially those with higher aggression problems. Some side effects can include hyperactivity, a decreased appetite, drooling, sleepiness, vomiting, diarrhea, and difficulty urinating. Dogs with diabetes, liver, heart, or kidney disease, as well as seizure disorders, should not take this medication.
Amitriptyline, also known as Elavil, is a tricyclic antidepressant that can be used to treat separation anxiety in the smaller toy breeds that may not be heavy enough for other antidepressants. This medication is also actually used with cats with anxiety too.
Always administer Amitriptyline as prescribed by the veterinarian. Give with or without food. If a dose is missed, it can be given as soon as possible. However, if the dose missed is closer to 12 hours of the next dose due, just give at the scheduled time.
Side effects of Amitriptyline used to treat dog anxiety can include, but are not limited to sedation, drowsiness, vomiting, and heart arrhythmias. Amitriptyline should not be used to treat dog anxiety in very young or geriatric dogs. Blood work should be performed as Amitriptyline can cause a decrease in platelet and white blood cell count.
Clomipramine, also known as Clomicalm, is another tricyclic antidepressant that is best used in conjunction with behavior modification training in dogs with obsessive-compulsive disorders, separation anxiety, and mild aggression.
Give Clomipramine as directed by the veterinarian. It can be given with or without food and the same steps can be taken if a dose is missed as with Amitriptyline. Do not give this medication with aged cheese. Clomipramine shouldn’t be given to dogs that wear a flea and tick collar or are currently on a long list of other medications such as thyroid medication and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). Be sure to inform the veterinarian what medications and supplements your dog is currently on as it can have severe reactions to Clomipramine.
Clomipramine should not be discontinued abruptly and side effects are similar to those listed above. However, blood work should be checked yearly at least as Clomipramine can affect liver enzymes.
Fluoxetine, commonly known as Prozac, is a commonly used SSRI used to treat a wide range of behavioral problems, especially in dogs with anxiety. Fluoxetine is even approved by the FDA as use of treatment as a dog anxiety medication to treat separation anxiety.
As an SSRI, it may take a couple of weeks for Fluoxetine to build levels in a dog with anxiety to start seeing a difference. By any means, do not stop this medication unless directed. If deciding to take a dog off Fluoxetine, it needs to be done by tapering the dose over a period of time.
Side effects can include but are not limited to, diarrhea, vomiting, shaking, decreased appetite, restlessness, and weight loss. Sometimes it isn’t visible to the owner that this medication is working. Some dogs require blood work to measure the levels of Fluoxetine in their system.
Trazodone, also known as Desyrel, is a serotonin antagonist/reuptake inhibitor, or SARI for short. This medication is a great short-term medication that will affect quickly the treatment of dog anxiety that is commonly prescribed in veterinary hospitals.
Trazodone is a great dog anxiety medication for dogs that display situational anxiety in situations such as fireworks, grooming, or veterinarian visits. It is a helpful medication for dogs that tend to be fear aggression driven as well. It should be given 2 hours before the stressful event that causes the dog’s anxiety. This medication can be given up to 3 times a day if needed as it is short-acting.
Side effects include tiredness, dilated pupils, diarrhea, vomiting, and an elevated temperature. Be sure to be specific as to what other medications your dog is currently taking when asking your veterinarian about Trazodone to help with dog anxiety.
Anxiety isn’t only a problem with people. Dogs can have the same psychological problems as we do. Sometimes we are lucky enough to be able to help calm dog anxiety with training and over-the-counter solutions. However, sometimes dogs require medication and it is ok if they do. If you feel that your dog is feeling anxious, check out this link, Veterinary Partner – VIN, and don’t forget to reach out to your veterinarian to help find the root cause of your dog’s anxiety and how to help them.