- Pay attention to your dog’s whole body — Your dog’s body, especially their ears, mouth, and posture, can tell you a lot about how they’re feeling.
- A veterinarian or vet behavior specialist can determine an appropriate treatment plan — It helps vets understand how a dog is feeling to help rule out any health issues that may be the root cause of the stress or anxiety.
- Dog trainers are invaluable when managing a stressed dog — If a vet rules out health issues, training can provide pet parents with helpful management tools.
The first step to determine if your dog is anxious or stressed is to look at their body language to give you clues as to how they’re feeling. Next, it’s important to consider the context and understand how your dog’s behavior may be changing based on what’s happening. For example, do you have a new house guest in your home that your dog is unfamiliar with?
Finally, a dog’s age, health, breed, and past experiences impact how they choose to communicate their feelings and respond to certain situations. A vet or vet specialist can help determine the root of the cause and provide a treatment plan to help your dog.
👉 Need some home remedies for dog anxiety fast? Skip ahead to see what you can do for your stressed pup at home.
Signs and symptoms of anxiety in dogs
Dogs show signs of anxiety, stress, and discomfort in a variety of ways. The most common signs of anxiety include:
- Aggression. This can look like biting or other forms of aggression (like scratching against the floor or with no particular “aim”).
- Shaking. This can be caused by anxiety or pent-up energy in your pup.
- Inability to sit still. This can look different for every dog and can include symptoms like restlessness, constant shifting, and the inability to find a comfortable place to sit or lie down.
- Panting. While this can be a sign of anxiety, it can also preclude other conditions. Consult with your vet if you aren’t clear on the cause.
- Excessive drooling . As with panting, you may notice excessive drooling if your dog pants when they are anxious, as this can prompt salivation. However, if you aren’t sure, it’s always best to ask your vet.
- Rapid heart rate (tachycardia) . A rapid heart rate can be caused by anxiety and a range of other conditions. Always check with your vet if you notice a rapid heart rate that is otherwise unexplained.
- Excessive yawning. Many pet parents might assume their pet is just tired, but excessive yawning is often a missed sign of anxiety.
- Excessive lip licking or grooming. Like yawning, dogs may appear to have an oral fixation when anxious. This is because licking can promote the flow of mood-regulating hormones in your dog, helping them calm down naturally.
- Decreased appetite. Like humans, your pet may not want to eat if they are feeling anxious.
- Dilated pupils. This can occur if your pet enters a “fight-or-flight” state of mind, which can happen during extreme anxiety.
- Uncontrollable urinating or defecating. Stress can wreak havoc on your pet’s GI tract, possibly leading to peeing or pooping in excess.
- Barking or whining. Your dog may attempt to vocalize to tell you something’s up.
- Chewing, digging against the ground, or general destructiveness. This can be another attempt to distract themselves from feelings of nervousness.
- Hiding or standoffishness. This can be a common defense mechanism for many dogs.
It’s important to have a basic understanding of dog body language so you can quickly spot the signs of anxiety in dogs and differentiate between stress and potential health issues. If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms for a prolonged period (several days or more), consult your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions.
Types of anxiety in dogs
Getting to the bottom of your dog’s anxiety isn’t always easy. Before diagnosing and treating the source of your dog’s anxiety, it helps to know what’s causing it. Dogs become anxious for a multitude of reasons, ranging from interactions with other dogs and strangers to vacuums, vet visits, and cognitive issues. However, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual, there are a few common threads found in cases of canine anxiety.
Nobody likes drastic change, including our dogs. Separation anxiety in dogs can be triggered by changes that may limit their time with you or create irregularity in an already established routine — and this may take the appearance of clinginess, aggression, or shaking. Things like a recent move, household changes, or a change in work schedule can cause separation anxiety.
Dogs often fear anything that they perceive as a threat. It can be as real and obvious as an aggressive animal approaching, or something seemingly silly, like a leaning umbrella by the door. Some fears can even stem from your dog’s genetic makeup. Studies have shown that small breeds are more prone to lash out against bigger dogs as a self-defense response because they fear they have more to lose in an altercation.
As dogs age, their state of brain cognition may see a significant decline. According to the Journal of Veterinary Medical Science, the senses of smell, hearing, vision, recognition, learning, memory, and behavior can all be affected . As a result, stress or compulsory behavior may set in as they have difficulty navigating their surroundings. Other physical ailments from age, such as organ failure or tumors, can also cause pain and anxiety.
At any age, dogs can develop certain diseases that can create or exacerbate anxiety symptoms. For instance, excess hormone levels produced by the thyroid gland (i.e., hypothyroidism or metabolic disease) can cause excitability and changes in appetite. According to studies, encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, has also been linked to irritability and behavioral changes in dogs.
How to treat anxiety in dogs
If your dog has anxiety, fortunately, there are plenty of strategies you can use to help calm them down. Speaking with your vet is the best place to start, as they’ll be able to provide evidence-based support that works for your pet’s needs. They may recommend medication, supplements, or a trainer, or a vet behavior specialist specially trained in anxiety and stress.
These unique veterinarians work with individual pet owners, other animal professionals, and facilities that care for animals to manage behavior problems and improve the well-being of animals. Specialists determine which medication, if any, is most appropriate as part of an integrated treatment program that includes behavioral modification plans. All veterinary specialists receive extensive training.
Dr. Dwight Alleyne, DVM
Veterinary behaviorists have 2-3 years of additional training after veterinary school that focuses on animal behavior. After training they take a rigorous test which allows them to become board certified in behavior.
Medication for stress and anxiety
The most common canine prescription meds used for anxiety today are Trazodone, Fluoxetine, Alprazolam, and Clomipramine. The drug prescribed is based on a veterinarian’s preference after examining your dog. Usually, all it takes is some blood work to ensure your dog’s organs are functioning correctly.
Many dog calming supplements and herbs are also used, and these include CBD products. The most common ingredients in calming products for dogs are typically L-theanine and L-tryptophan. These are both amino acids known to help reduce the overall stress response. If CBD products are legal where you live, you may also want to talk to your vet about introducing a CBD treat or chew. However, it’s important to check for THC in these products to avoid potential toxicity or over-sedation.
Products like ADAPTIL Travel Spray For Dogs may also help anxious dogs. This spray can be applied to a bandana and mimics a mother’s nursing pheromone.
Great for event-specific use
Front of the Pack Harmony
Your vet may recommend a dog trainer
Signing up your dog for obedience training may be a recommendation from your vet. Two popular training techniques are desensitization and counterconditioning. A professional trainer can introduce you to both of these helpful methods.
Ways to calm your dog at home
If your dog doesn’t have any underlying physical conditions causing anxiety (such as neurological or endocrine conditions), you may be able to help calm your dog down. Here are some expert-recommended tips to battle bouts of anxiety and calm your dog.
1. Eliminate exposure to anxiety triggers
One way to stop anxiety in dogs is to minimize anxiety-inducing triggers. For instance, if your dog is nervous around strangers, have a plan for when they visit. You may need to distract them with a toy or keep them in a separate part of the house for a time. This type of anxiety can often be tackled with persistent training and incremental exposure.
For loud noises in the house that induce anxiety, like the vacuum or beeps from kitchen appliances, consider keeping your dog outside while the noises persist.
👉 Many dogs have an aversion to fire. If you are having a bonfire and know your pooch gets stressed, keep them inside.
2. Weighted jackets or blankets
For the loud noises you can’t control, such as thunder and fireworks, many dog owners have found success with weighted jackets, such as the ThunderShirt or a weighted blanket. These items apply a tiny amount of weighted pressure designed to comfort and soothe your dog’s anxiety, much like a hug does for humans. A study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior reported that 89% of surveyed pet owners said that an anxiety wrap was at least partially effective in treating their dogs.
3. Physical touch
If the weighted touch of a coat or blanket doesn’t do the trick, you may just have to wrap your own arms around your pup to make them feel safe and secure. You can choose to accompany the touch with some cuddles or a nice muscle massage, which can be especially helpful in extremely stressful situations.
4. Create a safe space
If you’ve ever found your dog in the closet or voluntarily in the bathtub, you know they love to have a designated place in the home where they can go if they feel anxious. Often that place is a crate. Crates lined with soft blankets and your dog’s favorite toys and in an especially quiet and calm location can be a comforting getaway in stressful situations.
👉 It’s helpful to start crate training early in your dog’s development. Check our guide to crate training to get started today.
Many studies have shown that dogs who partake in regular exercise generally exhibit fewer signs of fear and anxiety, especially if they have been adequately trained and socialized. Plus, it’s a great way for you and your dog to spend time together!
Not sure where to start? The good news is it doesn’t take much! You can simply take a long walk, run, or swim. Or, try throwing the frisbee for 30 minutes a day.
6. Mental stimulation
Exercising your dog’s mind is just as important as physical exercise. It’s hard to be anxious when your mind is on other things or exhausted from stimulation. Spend time trick-training and providing “jobs,” such as walking beside you or fetching items for you, to help keep those neurons firing and give your dog purpose (besides looking adorable).
Toys like KONGs, lick mats, and other chew toys keep your dog engaged and can reduce anxiety. If you go this route, consider using treats with natural ingredients and stay informed about what your pup could be ingesting. Homeopathic remedies and pastes, while popular, may not always be safe for your dog. If you’re looking to use toys to curb your dog’s anxiety and nervousness, speak to your vet first.
8. Sound solutions
Music is another option that’s been reported to relax dogs. In fact, there are whole companies dedicated to treating anxiety with sound! Zoundz, for instance, provides scientifically-backed soundscapes and music for dogs (and cats) that pet parents can take with them on their phone or use to block out unwanted sounds. Your pet may also benefit from professional help and white noise machines, which you can use throughout their training process and resiliency steps.
Effective behavioral training can negate many behavioral issues and distressing conditions like anxiety. There are a few techniques for training nervous dogs, so it can be helpful to ask your vet for recommendations. They may have a better idea of your dog’s specific needs, especially if they’ve worked with them for a while. Training takes time and dedication, but it’s often well worth the cost and can have lasting long-term results on your dog’s stress levels.
Preventing anxiety in dogs
Taking measures to prevent anxiety in dogs, particularly breeds prone to heightened stress, is crucial for their well-being. Understanding any predispositions enables pet owners to adapt their care routines and environment to mitigate potential stress factors. Here are some ways to reduce the likelihood of anxiety-related issues:
- Socialization. Introducing your dog to various environments, people, and other animals in a positive and controlled manner from an early age helps them become more adaptable and less likely to feel anxious in unfamiliar situations later in life.
- Obedience training. Training your dog not only establishes clear communication and reinforces good behavior, but also provides them with a sense of structure and confidence, which can help reduce anxiety.
- Exercise. Regular physical activity is not only essential for a dog’s physical health but also plays a significant role in reducing stress by releasing pent-up energy and promoting relaxation.
- Nutrition. A well-balanced diet tailored to your dog’s specific needs supports overall health, which in turn can contribute to a more stable and less anxious demeanor.
- Situation avoidance. Recognizing situations or stimuli that consistently cause anxiety in your dog and managing exposure to these triggers can significantly alleviate their stress levels and prevent issues.
At the end of the day, anxiety happens — but your pet isn’t without options! There are plenty of strategies you can use to help your dog live a fear-free life. While many of the methods on this list can offer support after the anxiety has set in, some ways can be effective as preventative measures, too. Start by speaking with your vet and they’ll be able to point you in the right direction to keep Fido fear-free.
Frequently asked questions
What are the signs of anxiety in dogs?
Anxiety in dogs can manifest in various ways. Common signs include shaking, excessive panting, aggression, excessive drooling, rapid heart rate, decreased appetite, barking or whining, and more. Knowing dog body language can help owners understand if their dog is experiencing anxiety or if something else is causing the behavior change.
What causes anxiety in dogs?
Anxiety in dogs can be triggered by several factors. These can range from separation anxiety, where a dog becomes distressed when separated from its owner or home, to fear of loud noises, certain situations, or unfamiliar environments. Additionally, age-related anxiety, cognitive dysfunction, past trauma, or underlying health conditions can contribute to the development of anxiety in dogs.
What can you do for a dog with anxiety?
If you suspect your dog is struggling with anxiety, it’s crucial to consult with a vet to rule out any underlying medical issues. Working with an animal behaviorist or dog trainer can help you devise strategies to alleviate the anxiety triggers and implement behavior modification techniques. Additionally, supplements or medications prescribed by a vet can sometimes aid in managing anxiety and improving the dog’s overall well-being.