In this article you’ll discover:
- 11 tips to stop anxiety in dogs
- The best indicator of anxiety in dogs
- 18 common symptoms of anxiety in dogs
- 5 causes why your dog is anxious all of a sudden
- And many more…
Table of contents
Why does my dog all of a sudden have anxiety?
Your dog all of a sudden has anxiety because of aging or illnesses. When dogs age, they lose their hearing or eyesight. This could be disconcerting. In the same way, illnesses and diseases such as thyroid problems and diabetes can cause anxiety.
Why does my dog all of a sudden have separation anxiety?
Your dog all of a sudden has separation anxiety because of fear and bad experiences. Fearful dogs are anxious and want to be with their owners all the time. Similarly, bad experiences lead to separation anxiety. Dogs might have come from an abusive home or had bad experiences in a shelter.
What are the symptoms of anxiety in dogs? 18 signs
The hardest thing for dogs is they can’t talk and tell us what’s wrong.
And when they do, in their own ways, dog parents sometimes misunderstand. Or totally don’t get it.
Pet parents need to be aware of the signs so they can act accordingly.
How to tell if your dog has anxiety
The best indicator of anxiety in dogs is body language.
Signs differ from one dog to another.
Common signs of dog anxiety are:
- Lip licking
- Air sniffing
- Tail thumping
- Running away
- Refusing to eat
- Constant yawning
- Excessive licking/chewing
- Panting even when it’s not hot
- Shivering, shaking, and trembling
- Destroying and chewing things
- Urinating and defecating in the house
- Barking/howling when the owner isn’t around
5 causes why your dog is anxious all of a sudden
Do loud noises such as fireworks make your dog shake like a leaf? Do kittens and roomba (vacuum cleaner) send them scurrying away? Does taking them to the vet scare them?
There’s this study involving 13,715 pet dogs from Finland. It found that 72.5% of dogs showed anxiety-like behaviors.
Noise sensitivity was the most prevalent anxiety-like trait. It affected 32% of the dogs.
Sounds of fireworks were the most common noise that caused fear. These had a prevalence of 26%.
In addition, 17% of dogs were fearful of other dogs. Conversely, fear of strangers affected 15% of the dogs.
Constant exposure to the cause of their fear may lead to an anxiety disorder. Or it could lead to behavioral problems if not treated.
#2: Separation anxiety
Did you know that many dogs are prone to anxiety? PetMD says that separation anxiety is the most common specific type of anxiety.
Surprisingly, separation-related behaviors were the least common behavior in this study. It affected only 5% of dogs. Also, younger dogs were more prone to separation anxiety.
On the other hand, the American Kennel Club (AKC) says that separation anxiety affects about 14% of dogs.
A dog with separation anxiety finds it hard to cope when their owner leaves. Some dogs display pitiful behaviors.
For example, they cry or howl all day. Or pace around the house as if in search of their owner.
But other dogs engage in destructive behaviors once the owners leave them. So if you leave them in the crate, they might destroy the crate to escape.
This dog is what I’m talking about:
Not only that. Dogs with separation anxiety show more attachment to their owners.
So when you’re home, they follow you around like a shadow. They always want to see you and be with you.
Separation anxiety can also happen if your dog suddenly loses a furry companion.
A friend of mine once owned a pair of Huskies, male and female siblings. Due to personal reasons, they had to sell the dogs – to different owners.
When the male was taken away by the new owner, the female began howling. She refused to eat and acted as though looking for her sibling. My friend said it was heart-breaking to hear the dog “crying” for days.
Age-related anxiety affects old and senior dogs. It can be brought about by health conditions that afflict older dogs.
There’s Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS). A dog with CDS experiences decline in their learning, memory, and awareness.
This is similar to Alzheimer’s in humans. When dogs have dementia or CDS, they experience confusion and anxiety.
Loss of faculties
It could scare your dog if they suddenly lost their hearing or eyesight. The experience is new and frightening. Their environment becomes unfamiliar all of a sudden.
#4: Bad experiences
Is your dog a rescue? Did they come from a shelter before you came along?
Or maybe the dog came from an abusive home?
That could be the source of your dog’s anxiety. Dogs with bad experiences in shelters become anxious.
What makes dogs anxious in this situation is the unpredictability of their routine and environment.
In some cases, this could lead to separation anxiety. They fear being abandoned again.
#5: Illness or disease
Illnesses or diseases can cause anxiety and fear in dogs. Sometimes this happens suddenly to dogs that are not normally anxious.
Now there are a lot of diseases that could befall a dog. Here are just some:
It could be diabetes if sudden anxiety is observed with weight gain or excessive thirst.
Anxiety, weight gain/loss, hair loss, and lethargy are some signs of either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid glands under-produce the thyroid hormone. Whereas hyperthyroidism is when thyroid glands overproduce the thyroid hormone.
Either way, it could lead to problems.
How do you stop anxiety in dogs? 11 tips
#1: Behavioral training
You can never go wrong with behavioral training.
You want to train your dog so that they associate being alone with something positive. Training will achieve this and more. It can help you prevent or manage your dog’s anxiety.
When training, give your pooch something they love. How about food puzzle toys? These will keep them entertained while you’re not around.
But if food can’t distract them, some behavior commands might. Try “Sit.” “Down.” “Stay.” And other simple commands.
Another great idea is to do a scent work game. Hide a treat and have them find it.
What’s good about this game is that it requires focus. So your dog gets to do something fun and forgets about their anxiety.
You can also enroll your dog in an obedience class. That is if budget and time are not an issue.
These classes are an ideal place for your dog to meet other dogs in a controlled environment.
#2: Medical treatment
Depending on your dog’s case, medication may be needed to address anxiety. These medications are given for severe cases.
Some dogs have high anxiety that it impairs their day to day life. Medications will help them cope with stress.
In fact, this study proved that. The author conducted a survey among 1,225 pet owners. The aim was to determine what they use to manage and treat fireworks fears.
The use of prescription medication was effective, according to 69% of owners. Here are the other medications and treatments as reported by the owners:
- Pheromones (N=316)
- Bach flowers (N=281)
- Essential oils (N=183)
- Nutraceuticals (N=211)
- Herbal products (N=282)
- Homeopathic remedies (N=250)
The success rates of these were within 27-35%.
Your vet may prescribe antidepressants for anxiety. Or a medication and an antidepressant to help dogs cope with fireworks or thunderstorms.
Aside from medications, the vet may also recommend aromatherapy.
For your senior dog suffering from CDS, certain medications reduce the symptoms.
Warning: Some stress-relief products can be bought easily over-the-counter. Please don’t play doctor and buy something for your dog. Have your dog checked by the vet first. They can recommend the best medication for your dog’s specific needs.
#3: Counterconditioning and desensitization
Counterconditioning and desensitization can stop your dog’s anxiety. The purpose of these methods is to decrease your dog’s reaction to a stimulus.
First, let’s discuss counterconditioning. It aims to change your dog’s response to a stimulus by replacing an anxious behavior with the desired behavior.
In other words, you want your dog to perform something good in place of their anxiety.
For example, you command your dog to sit. When they obey, reward them.
Now let’s apply that to situations when they are afraid or anxious. Let’s say a loud motorcycle engine from the neighbor paralyzes your dog with terror.
Direct their attention by asking them to sit. Then reward them with a treat and comfort them at the same time.
Now let’s discuss desensitization. What you do here is repeatedly expose your dog to a stimulus until they get used to it.
Let’s apply this to real-life situations. For example, your dog suffers from separation anxiety.
Think of all the things you do right before leaving. Putting on your shoes. Getting your scarf. Slinging your bag across your shoulder. Getting your keys.
When you’re just staying at home, do some or all of these activities. Get your keys on your way to the kitchen. Get your scarf and bag and chill on the couch watching Netflix.
The aim here is to desensitize your dog to these triggers.
Desensitization also works well with other anxiety-causing triggers such as loud noises. Is your dog scared of thunder? Make them get used to it.
Play a recording of thunder at a sound level that won’t affect your dog. Let it play at a low volume for several minutes a day.
Play with your dog while the recording is on to distract them. But they can still hear the recording in the background.
Gradually increase the sound until your dog is desensitized to it.
What studies say about these methods
The authors of this study observed 8 dogs with separation-related anxiety. Counterconditioning and desensitization reduced the frequency and severity of separation anxiety behaviors.
In addition, 6 of the dogs almost eliminated the problem behavior.
One interesting finding was that systematic desensitization was more effective.
Another study found that counterconditioning was effective. The study was about fireworks fears in dogs. The other methods were environmental modification, feed/play, alternative, and interaction.
Out of 1,225 pet owners surveyed, 694 reported the effectiveness of counterconditioning. It had an effectiveness rate of more than 70%.
Training and socialization go hand-in-hand. You’ll see that well-trained dogs find it easier to socialize.
Socialization goes a long way in stopping your dog’s anxiety. If they’re exposed to other animals, people, and experiences, they become well-adjusted. They do not exhibit exaggerated responses to potential triggers.
Exercise is such a useful “drug.”
Not only does it keep your dog fit and healthy. It also helps prevent anxieties.
Imagine your dog getting all the exercise they need on a daily basis. They’re walked, they’ve run, and you also played games with them.
On top of that, you also provided mentally stimulating activities.
Your dog ends up tired but calmer and happier. This is very helpful when you need to leave them at home.
#6: Anxiety wraps
Anxiety wraps are made to calm anxious dogs.
The idea behind it is that pressure on the dog’s torso has a calming effect. It’s like a crying baby swaddled. Or a sad person being hugged.
So when your dog has an anxiety wrap, it’s like they’re being hugged all the time.
#7: Consistent and predictable routines
Dogs can benefit from consistent and predictable routines. Especially pets that came from shelters or had bad experiences.
By having these routines in place, your dog feels safe. They know what to expect in their day.
But sometimes, unexpected changes come.
For instance, you need to work longer hours. Or you need to switch from work-from-home to going to the office.
In these cases, it’s best to acclimate your dog to the changes ahead of time. For instance, slowly introduce a new meal schedule since you’ll be coming home later than usual.
Or introduce a friend who will walk them or feed them when you’re out.
Note: As much as possible, avoid drastic changes to your dog’s day. It’s bound to confuse them and cause stress.
#8: Avoidance of anxiety triggers
For dogs diagnosed with anxiety, know what triggers their anxiety. Then take them away from these triggers if you have to.
Avoiding anxiety triggers will reduce stress on you and your pooch.
If your dog is afraid of unfamiliar dogs, avoid the dog park. If the vacuum scares the hell out of them, then place them in a room while you vacuum the living room.
Videos abound of owners teasing their dog with the thing that scares them. Sometimes it seems like harmless fun.
But what do we know? This might have a lasting effect on the dog.
#9: Massage and touch
Don’t underestimate the power of touch.
Help your dog relax by giving them a bit of attention. And some massage, too.
If your pooch is receptive to touch, give them a full body massage. They’re going to love it, as you can see Chico in this video:
But if your dog can’t sit or lie still, just give them ear massages or belly rubs. They won’t be able to resist those!
#10: Treats and toys
Treats and toys can help distract your anxious dogs from triggers.
Give them a toy stuffed with dog-safe peanut butter. Licking will soothe and relax your dog and keep them occupied.
Note: Watch your dog’s calories and ensure they don’t gain extra weight. Their treats should only be 10% of their daily calories.
#11: A safe space
A safe space is where your pooch can relax anytime. It could be their bed, or their crate.
From the beginning, help your dog see their bed as a safe place. Do so by rewarding their relaxed behavior while on their bed.
Crate training also goes a long, long way. Dogs that are crate-trained are less likely to misbehave when you have to leave.
Warning: Do not use the crate as punishment. Your dog will soon associate their crate with something very unpleasant. Instead, it should be their safe haven.
Bonus: Let the professionals in
Sometimes your efforts are not enough to help your dogs. And that’s okay. It doesn’t hurt to get professional help.
There are people who trained especially to help dogs with anxiety. You might be able to find in your area a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a veterinary behaviorist.
A few final words for owners with dogs suffering from anxiety.
Overcoming anxiety doesn’t happen overnight. But training your dog consistently and arming yourself with patience goes a long way.
Help your dog resolve their anxiety so they can enjoy their life to the fullest.