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dog hiding under a bed

The essentials

  • 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 emotions. 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, such as essential oils, prescription medication, and more. If you notice any sort of anxiety in your dog, it’s a good idea to treat it as soon as possible.

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 such as fireworks, 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. However, dogs can exhibit a range of signs if they’re experiencing anxiety. Pet parents should keep an eye out for:

  • Aggression
  • Urinating or defecating in the house
  • Drooling
  • Panting
  • Destructive behavior
  • Depression
  • Excessive barking
  • Pacing
  • Restlessness
  • 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 [trusted url=”https://cvm.ncsu.edu/” title=”NC State Veterinary Medicine” description=”Veterinary school.”. 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:

  1. Try training exercises Training an anxious dog is not always easy, but it’s certainly possible. Plus, many pet parents might find that a socialized, trained dog is generally less anxious overall—and more confident about their daily encounters.  Training techniques may include things like exposure therapy, supporting your pet in limiting undesirable behaviors, and rewarding your dog for better coping with their anxiety triggers in specific situations. When in doubt, reach out to a licensed professional for help.
  2. Prevent anxiety before it begins Preventative strategies for treating canines 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. Veterinary professionals can help you to do this process as safely as possible
  3. Talk to your vet about medication There are tons of super effective, different forms of anti-anxiety meds on the market that you can use to treat your dog’s anxiety. While prescription drugs aren’t the right solution for every dog, they can be the best thing for some—and 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 (including formal anxiety disorders, social anxiety, and other mental health diagnoses):

Alprazolam (Xanax). Similar to the type of medication for anxiety 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. Prescription drugs that sedate are common treatment options for dog anxiety, taking the edge off of symptoms for your pet.

Amitriptyline. This type of prescribed medication is an antidepressant that is used to treat all different types of anxiety 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. The best way to get this medication is with a prescription from your veterinarian.

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. The good news is this can be given for your dog’s anxiety with or without food, making it a simple drug to offer your pet to tame their form of anxiety disorder related-symptoms.

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. It is FDA-approved and deemed safe for pets.

Dexmedetomidine (Sileo). This medication is a sedative used to help dogs that experience 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. This drug can treat the main types of anxiety across all common causes and can be given safely at the earliest sign of anxiety with a vet prescription.

Fluoxetine (Reconcile or Prozac). These medication options are ones that the FDA has explicitly approved to treat dogs with separation anxiety. They are SSRI antidepressants that can also be used to treat other behavioral disorders in pets. They are 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:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Inappetence (not eating)
  • Sedation
  • Agitation
  • Increased appetite
  • Drunken walking
  • Lethargy
  • 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 their 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:

  • Blindness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Diarrhea
  • High fever
  • Lack of coordination
  • Vomiting
  • Paralysis
  • Seizures

🚨Contact your vet immediately if you notice any of these symptoms!

Over-the-counter dog anxiety medications

Beyond prescription anti-anxiety options, your pup might benefit from over-the-counter medications. We do recommend getting use suggestions and approval from your vet before using these as a course of treatment for your dog’s anxiety disorder. 

Benadryl (Diphenhydramine). Benadryl is a type of drug known as an antihistamine. While histamines occur naturally in response to stimuli, food, and your pet’s environment, too high a histamine level can lead to inflammation and neurological symptoms (such as anxiety). Reducing the histamine load with Benadryl can result in fewer overall symptoms. 

This over-the-counter drug can be found at any supermarket or drugstore, coming in liquid, capsule, or sublingual (under the tongue) form. We recommend always speaking with a vet to get the most accurate dosing information and recommendations. 

Adaptil (pheromone products). Pheromone-based products like Adaptil can be found at pet supply stores near you. The product mimics the familiar soothing scent that puppies experience from their mothers as they come into the world, promoting a general sense of calm for your pup. This medication emotionally grounds your dog on a chemical level , using the pheromone scent to influence the brain on a chemical level.

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.

Supplements

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:

👉 Another supplement worth mentioning is Adaptil. It contains a natural dog-calming pheromone.

ThunderShirts

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!)

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.