Recognizing anxiety symptoms in your dog and treating it properly is very important as anxiety can not only interfere with a dog’s emotional health but can also affect their physical health.
When a dog perceives a threat, the hypothalamus, a section of brain tissues, signals the production of certain chemicals to prepare the dog for fight or flight. This is good when there is an actual threat, but in dogs with chronic anxiety, it causes problems such as depression. The chemicals begin to weaken the immune system and can lead to heart disease.
There are two types of anxiety. Phobias where there is a reaction to something such as thunder or fireworks and others where the cause cannot be identified.
Where there are anxiety symptoms in dogs, often more than one anxiety exists such as a phobia for noise or thunderstorms.
Anxiety Symptoms in Dogs
Anxiety symptoms in dogs may include barking, pacing, licking excessively, and urinating or defecating in the house. During times of acute distress (such as thunderstorms or fireworks, for example), your pet may also hide under the couch or under the bed.
Diagnosing Anxiety Symptoms
Your veterinarian will evaluate your dog's behavior and run tests to check things such as heart rate, digestion and frequency of urination (frequent urination could be an emotional problem). A blood test will be used to see if there are unusual levels of certain types of white blood cells associated with anxiety.
Treating Anxiety Symptoms in Dogs
The first step in dealing with an anxious dog to look at the environment. Dogs do not deal well with change. In times of domestic stress (such as divorce, introducing a new family member, etc.), your dog may begin to show signs of anxiety. Giving your dog extra attention during this time can help.
Maintaining a regular schedule of feeding, walking, and playtime will also help. If this does not seem to do the trick, it’s time to talk to your vet about anti-anxiety medication. Medication may be required for a short period along with the other changes you make.
Some dogs simply have a nervous disposition. Dogs can have anxiety disorders just like people can. These dogs may require long-term anxiety medication, although behavioral and environmental changes should be tried first.
An anti-anxiety drug is designed to be given once a day and to keep your dog calm overall. It is not designed to be given at a particular time when your dog becomes overly anxious or excited. The best thing to do at such times is to speak calmly to your dog in a reassuring but firm voice. Keep your hand on your dog, providing your dog does not become aggressive. Some dogs may become aggressive and try to bite. If possible, remove the dog from the anxiety-provoking situation. Above all, remain calm yourself, because your dog will take cues from your behavior.
It should be noted that “working dogs” such as Seeing Eye dogs should not be given anti-anxiety medication, because it may be too sedating for them to be able to do their job correctly. A dog that is exceedingly anxious will not make a good guide dog.
Dogs that compete at shows should have generally calm dispositions, as well. However, the competitive environment can cause some stress for your dog. Use your calm voice and keep your hand on you dog. Dogs with high levels of anxiety will not do well in a competitive environment.
Anxiety drugs are usually prescribed to provide fast improvement in behavior. One reason is that problems often develop over time with the owner only seeking treatment when the problem is more severe.
Two types of drugs are usually prescribed; psychotropic drugs and pheromones. Drugs tend to work by either changing the levels of serotonin (SSRIs clomipramine and the on-coming fluoxetine) or by affecting the levels of dopaminergic activity (dopamine controls the way neurons in the brain speak to each other).
The drug chosen will be based on the level of prolactin (PRL) in the blood. Anxious dogs showing a normal PRL value are significantly improved when treated with SSRIs (seratonin) when those showing a high PRL value are much sensitive to selegiline and worsened when treated with fluoxetine.
The pheromones DAP in dogs has helped in conjunction with therapy to change behavior such as changing the dog's environment, training and approaches that encourage relaxation.
How to Deal with Anxiety and Stress Responses: Dogs
Hillestad, Katherine DVM
Diagnosis and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders
Pherosynthese Research Centre, France