- Dogs have anxiety, too — Anxiety in dogs can be generalized or caused by things like fear and aging.
- Dogs with anxiety may display certain behaviors — They may drool, bark excessively, act aggressively, or pace.
- There are plenty of medications to treat dog anxiety — The best one for your pup depends on their specific needs identified by your vet.
- You can help and prevent your dog’s anxiety through natural methods, too — Things like supplements and “thunder shirt” treatments have proven to be highly effective.
What causes dog anxiety?
Anxiety in dogs is very much the same as in us humans. Dogs are complex little beings with feelings that can vary just as vastly as human emotion. While it may be troubling to witness your dog experiencing anxiety, it can be normal at times. However, there are still plenty of things pet owners can do to help ease and soothe anxiety in dogs. If a dog’s anxiety is left untreated, it can be detrimental to its long-term health. The varied causes and types of dog anxiety can include the following:
- Fear. When dogs feel threatened, they begin to experience fear. This fear can trigger their anxiety.
- Situational anxiety. Situational anxiety is caused by situations like thunderstorms, loud noises, visits to the vet, and moving house. These are abnormal circumstances that prevent your dog from calming down.
- Aging. As dogs ease into their old age, they may start to experience increased irritability and decreased tolerance.
- Separation. It’s not just a myth that separation anxiety exists between dogs and their owners. When left alone for long periods, a dog’s anxiety can become worse.
- General causes. Generalized anxiety is when your dog exhibits constant anxiety, regardless of the situation. It can be one of the hardest forms of anxiety to help your dog cope with.
Signs of anxiety in dogs
It can be hard to differentiate whether your dog is suffering from anxiety or another ailment. Dogs can exhibit a range of signs if they’re experiencing anxiety. These include:
- Urinating or defecating in the house
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive barking
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
Treatments for dog anxiety
If your dog exhibits any of the above-mentioned symptoms of anxiety, you should bring them to the vet. They will carry out a small analysis of your dog to diagnose their anxiety. You will likely be asked to fill out a behavioral history questionnaire. This helps your vet to decide what the best treatment method is for your dog’s anxiety. There are a few proven methods for treating a dog’s anxiety:
- Try training exercises — Training an anxious dog is not always easy, but it’s certainly possible. Training techniques may include things like exposure therapy and rewarding your dog for better coping with their anxiety triggers. When in doubt, reach out to a licensed professional for help.
- Prevent anxiety before it begins — Preventative strategies for treating a dog with anxiety mean avoiding putting your dog in situations that cause stress. If they have separation anxiety, this may include limiting the time they spend alone or making your departures from the house subtle. If there is a storm coming, you might want to keep your dog in an area of your home where they feel most comfortable.
- Talk to your vet about medication — There are tons of super effective and different forms of medication on the market that you can use to treat your dog’s anxiety. While medication isn’t the right solution for every dog, it may be worth speaking to your vet about.
Common types of anxiety medication for dogs
If your dog suffers from frequent or severe anxiety, you and your vet may consider a variety of different medications. Some of the following are considered SSRIs and antidepressants, both of which can be used to treat different forms of anxiety:
Alprazolam (Xanax). Similar to the medication that some humans take, Xanax is a sedative that can treat a dog’s panic or anxiety. It’s most commonly administered in the form of a tablet or liquid, with or without food.
Amitriptyline. This is an antidepressant used to treat all different kinds of behavior disorders, specifically in small animals. It’s used to treat separation anxiety and excessive grooming (which can be a sign of nervousness or anxiety in pups). It’s most often given to dogs in the form of a tablet, both with and without food.
Buspirone. Specifically used to target fear-based anxieties in pups, Buspirone can be given to your dog when you know they’re going to be in a situation that triggers fear. It’s administered in the form of a tablet, with or without food.
Clomipramine (Clomicalm). While this medication is used to treat anxiety in dogs, it also treats OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). It can be administered in tablet or liquid form.
Dexmedetomidine (Sileo). This medication is a sedative used to help dogs with anxiety. This is administered in a gel form on the gums.
Diazepam (Valium). Diazepam is a powerful medication that treats dogs with not only anxiety but also seizures. This drug is mainly administered through injection for treating seizures and as part of an anesthesia protocol. When used to treat anxiety it is mainly given to dogs in a pill form.
Fluoxetine (Reconcile or Prozac). This is a medication that the FDA has explicitly approved to treat dogs with separation anxiety. It’s an SSRI antidepressant that can also be used to treat other behavioral disorders in pets. It’s given in the form of a tablet, capsule, or liquid.
Lorazepam (Ativan). Used to treat anxiety, fears, and phobias in dogs, Lorazepam is administered in pill, liquid, or injection forms (at the hospital). If you know your dog will be exposed to a behavioral trigger of their anxiety, you can give them this medication one hour before.
Paroxetine (Paxil). Paroxetine is an SSRI antidepressant used to treat canine aggression, anxiety, and general behavior problems. It’s administered in tablet, capsule, or liquid form.
Sertraline (Zoloft). Another SSRI, Sertraline, treats anxiety, OCD, and general behavior disorders in dogs. It can be given with or without food, however, food is recommended if your dog has an upset stomach after taking it.
What exactly is an SSRI?
You may often hear this term to describe the medicine your dog takes for their anxiety. SSRI stands for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. They treat anxiety and depression by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain.
Potential side effects of anxiety medication in dogs
Some side effects that dogs may experience after taking anti-anxiety medications are normal. However, some can be more severe and are a sign that your dog should not be taking the medication. Side effects can include:
- Inappetence (not eating)
- Increased appetite
- Drunken walking
- Urinary changes
- Overall body weakness
👉 Keep your dog’s medicine (and other medications in your home) out of pets’ reach. This reduces the risk of overdose.
Signs of serotonin overdose in dogs
Serotonin is the common ingredient in most anti-anxiety medications for dogs. Pet owners should know that too much serotonin can be detrimental to your dog’s health and can cause an ultimate overdose. This is why you should ensure that you’re giving your dog the correct dose of their medication. If your dog displays any of the following symptoms, it could be experiencing an overdose:
- Dilated pupils
- High fever
- Lack of coordination
🚨Contact your vet immediately if you notice any of these symptoms!
Alternatives to medication to treat dog anxiety
Medication may not be the best solution for all dogs with anxiety. However, there are a few other methods to treat dog anxiety.
Certain calming supplements and other herbal supplements may help your dog feel less anxious. Some dog owners have reported success in using CBD oil to treat dog anxiety. The following natural supplement comes highly recommended by vets to help treat your dog’s anxiety:
Made with natural ingredients
Native Pet Calming Chew
👉 Another supplement worth mentioning is Adaptil. It contains a natural dog calming pheromone.
Developed by behavioral scientists, the ThunderShirt is a nice alternative to medicines for many dogs, and it has proven to be an effective treatment for many anxious dogs. ThunderShirts are shirt-like wraps that go around your dog’s body. They apply gentle pressure to a dog’s body to help reduce their anxiety and fears. They come in different sizes, colors, and styles, so you can find one that fits your dog comfortably (they can look cute, too!).
Training and counterconditioning
Training an anxious dog to help reduce its nerves can be challenging. There are plenty of professional dog trainers out there, however, who specialize in helping dogs with anxiety. Professional trainers may use techniques like exposure therapy and other counterconditioning methods to enhance behavior modification. Contact your vet for the best training referral for your pup!
Preventing dog anxiety
Anxiety can be detrimental to your dog’s health in the long run. The stress it puts on their body can cause problems for their hearts, organs, and general well-being. There are plenty of daily lifestyle tips and changes you can take to help your pup’s anxiety. This includes ensuring that from a young age, your dog gets the appropriate training, along with proper exercise and nutrition. While not all stressful situations are avoidable, you can always go that little extra bit to ensure you avoid putting your dog in situations that induce their anxiety. And when your dog combats their anxiety in noticeable ways, be sure to give them lots of positive reinforcement (treats, please!).
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Frequently asked questions
What is an off-label medication?
You may notice that some of the medications for treating a dog’s anxiety are labeled as off-label medicines. This is common in veterinary practice when the FDA hasn’t necessarily approved a drug for use on pets. This doesn’t mean it’s not safe, however, and your vet will know what the best solution is for treating your dog’s anxiety.
Is anxiety medication bad for dogs?
While medication may not be the right choice for every dog suffering from anxiety, it can be a great way to help your anxious pup cope and possibly prevent them from experiencing anxiety spells altogether.
Can you give your dog human medication to treat their anxiety?
No. You should only give your dog a medication that the vet has prescribed.