How to Recognize Anxiety in Dogs

Know the symptoms to protect your dog from undue stress

While anxiety in dogs is fairly common, it can be a difficult condition to diagnose, monitor, and manage, especially if you are trying to calm your dog yourself. Unfortunately, our dogs can’t tell us what’s wrong, so it’s up to pet owners to pay attention, note any changes in behavior or mood, and seek help when they sense that something is wrong.

If you suspect that your dog might be suffering from anxiety, our first recommendation is that you come see the team at Ambassador Animal Hospital immediately so that we can rule out medical causes. Some serious medical conditions, such as thyroid issues and responses to toxic substances like lead, can exhibit the same symptoms as anxiety. We can quickly rule out medical causes by performing a wellness exam and running blood work in our diagnostic lab. If the cause of the anxiety is not due to illness, we can also prescribe safe, low-cost anti-anxiety medicine to reduce severe stress until we can determine the cause of the anxiety.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Dog Anxiety

Anxiety, and its associated symptoms, can range from mild to severe and, if left untreated, can take quite a toll on dogs, both physically and mentally. Some of the symptoms of severe anxiety can even result in self-injury and stress that is taxing on a dog’s immune system and cardiovascular health. In order to best protect your dog from illness and injury related to undue stress, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of anxiety and treat it early, before it escalates.

Mild Symptoms of Anxiety

Many of the less obvious symptoms of anxiety show up as subtle changes in behavior, which can often go unnoticed as they are not disruptive. These symptoms can include:

  • Comfort seeking behaviors. Dogs who suddenly begin to seek more attention or affection may be experiencing anxiety. Has your dog recently become your shadow, jumping into your lap at inappropriate times or whimpering when you aren’t nearby? This behavior could be anxiety-induced.
  • Hiding or solitude. Other dogs want to be left alone when they are stressed, either by hiding or moving away from people and other pets. Has your dog begun avoiding you or other people in the home? Does your dog hide when people come in the room or avoid eye contact?  
  • Panting and shaking. Sometimes, panting or shaking is normal, such as after a brisk walk. However, if your dog appears to be panting or shaking for no reason, chances are you’re dealing with anxiety and stress.
  • Licking and chewing excessively. This is a tough one, because there are many causes for excessive licking and chewing, including pet allergies, flea dermatitis, and dental issues. However, if you’ve ruled out other causes, it’s good to keep in mind that anxious dogs may compulsively lick or chew at their fur, particularly their paws.

Severe Symptoms of Anxiety

The more severe symptoms of anxiety in dogs are difficult to miss because they are often disruptive and upsetting for pet owners.

  • Escape attempts. Dogs that are placed in stressful situations or feel trapped may start digging or trying to run. Chasing or crating your dog in these cases can actually worsen the anxiety, so give your dog plenty of room and try coaxing with treats until your dog is calm, instead.
  • Aggression. Anxious dogs or dogs that have been put into a stressful, frightening position may suddenly growl, snap, or show other signs of aggression—even to their owners, and even if they’ve never shown aggression before.
  • Barking or howling excessively. Making extra noise is a dog’s first defense, so it’s not surprising that many dogs respond to anxiety by barking and howling. It is normal for dogs to howl along with sirens or bark in response to a loud noise or other interruption, such as a doorbell. However, dogs who can’t be easily calmed down, even after the disruption passes, may be experiencing anxiety.  
  • Hyperactivity. Dogs who are stressed may get a surge of energy and appear hyperactive, running in circles or moving uncontrollably.  
  • Destructive behaviors. One of the most obvious signs of anxiety is destructive behaviors. Dogs who are under duress may chew or shred soft objects in your home such as carpets, couches, and curtains. Previously house-trained dogs may begin urinating and defecating indoors.
  • Panic attacks and seizures. Dogs who experience any of these more severe symptoms could eventually escalate into full blown panic attacks or, rarely, seizures.

Of course, recognizing the symptoms is only half the battle. In our next blog, we will discuss different options for treating anxiety in dogs.

If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms, contact Ambassador Animal Hospital at 864.271.1112 for an appointment. We can help you keep your dog calm and happy in addition to healthy.

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