AHHHHH! A yelp, a scream, an inner panic. These are some of the thoughts that come to one’s mind when they think of the word anxiety. It is something all of us experience in life, some more often than others. Sadly, it is also something that affects our furry friends. While anxiety is something that can be scary and difficult to deal with, it is a healthy emotion. It is important to recognize the signs of anxiety in your dogs because if disproportionate levels of anxiety are left unchecked, a dog can develop an anxiety disorder. If left untreated, dog anxiety can lead to behavioral and other issues.
So what is dog anxiety? The basic definition of anxiety is a feeling of fear, dread, and uneasiness. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, dog anxiety can have a variety of causes. Some of the most common causes of dog anxiety are:
Fear-related Anxiety- Can be caused by loud noises (think fireworks, loud kitchen appliances, vacuums), strange humans or other animals, visual triggers like hats, umbrellas, bags, trash bags, new or strange locations, specific situations — the vet’s office car rides, daycare, or dog parks ; surfaces like grass, wood floors, snow, or ice. Although some dogs may only have brief reactions to these kinds of triggers, they may affect anxiety-prone dogs more significantly.
Separation Anxiety- estimated to affect around 20-40 percent of dogs. Dogs with separation anxiety are unable to find comfort when they are left alone or separated from their family members. This anxiety often manifests itself in undesirable behaviors, such as urinating, defecating in the house, destroying furniture and furnishings, and barking.
Age-Related Anxiety-affects older dogs and can be associated with cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). In dogs with CDS, memory, learning, perception, and awareness start to decline, similar to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in humans. This understandably leads to confusion and anxiety in senior dogs.
Now that you know the different types, the next step to recognizing anxiety and aiding your furry buddy as fast as possible is knowing the symptoms. So how can you tell if your dog has anxiety?
There are several important symptoms to look out for:
Urinating or defecating in the house
Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
It is possible some of these symptoms happen because of occasional anxiety-causing events, but any of these can become recurrent and lead to more serious issues. The most dangerous symptom of dog anxiety is aggression. Aggression can be targeted directly or indirectly, depending on the situation. Direct aggression occurs when a dog acts aggressively toward people or other animals. Indirect aggression can be equally dangerous, and often happens when a person comes between a dog and the source of the dog’s aggression, such as another dog or a toy being taken away. Even if a dog is prevented from harming others, aggressive behaviors like growling or barking can lead to undesirable situations for both humans and their furry companions.
Urinating and defecating in the house is a common symptom of separation anxiety. Anxious dogs work themselves up to a brink or threshold where they pee or poop in the home, even if they are housebroken. This can be frustrating for owners causing damage to property, carpet and having to deal with the cleaning upon seeing the mess.
Destructive behavior is also quite common with separation anxiety. The damage is usually located around entry and exit points, like doorways or windows. The even more dangerous element in destructive behavior is that dogs in a state of heightened anxiety are also at risk of harming themselves. Attempts to break out of dog crates, windows, and even doors can result in injury and necessary veterinary emergency visits or care
You now have all the tools necessary to recognize the signs and types of anxiety that your dog may be experience. This will allow you to assess and make decisions regarding what treatment or training option you can pursue so that you are capable of soothing and caring for your furry companions when anxiety occurs. Tune in next week for Part Two where we will talk all about treatment and training options for your furry companions. Have a furtastic day!