Dog anxiety — how to help your best friend feel better
Wait a minute, dogs have anxiety too? Heck yes! ‘Dognitive’ therapist, Laura Vissaritis says “MRIs of dogs have shown they have emotions, fear and anxiety just like us…mental health is a massive problem with dogs”.
Man’s best friend has the title for a reason — they are more like us than we may think. An insightful study published in 2019 found that dogs facial muscles have evolved over the 33 thousand years since their domestication which allow them to show more varied facial expressions — all to communicate with humans a little better! How incredible is that?
You may have also heard or noticed that dogs — and other animals — can sense your emotions. Somehow, they know when you are upset or stressed and will usually behave in some sort of way to ‘protect’ or ‘comfort’ you. A study also published in 2019 confirmed that not only can dogs pick up on chronic stress and anxiety in their owners, but they have corresponding elevated cortisol levels — meaning they are matching your anxiety.
So how many dogs does anxiety affect? Well, there are approximately 5 million dogs in Australia and statistics suggest 40% off domestic dogs will suffer some level of anxiety at any one time. That’s 2 million dogs suffering from anxiety across Australia — poor pups!
We’re here to explain everything you need to know about dog anxiety — common causes, symptoms, and treatments. So, let’s get down to it.
How do you know if your dog has anxiety and what can you do to treat anxious dogs? Firstly, there are 3 common kinds of anxiety in dogs.
1. Fear-related anxiety
The most common form of anxiety is fear-related anxiety. This can be caused by loud noises, strange people, other animals, bright or invasive visual stimuli like hats or umbrellas, unfamiliar environments, specific situations — like the vet’s office — or surfaces like sand or tiled floors. Although most dogs may only have short-term and situational reactions to these kinds of fears, anxious dogs may be more affected in an ongoing manner.
2. Separation Anxiety
The second most common form with around 14% of dogs affected is separation anxiety. This kind of anxiety occurs in dogs when they are left alone, away from their owners and are unable to find any sense of comfort without the owner there. Often the results of this kind of anxiety in dogs are a range of ‘naughty’ behaviours that include urinating & defecating inside, destroying, or damaging furniture/surroundings and persistent barking.
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 behaviours as mentioned above: urinating and defecating in the house, destroying furniture and furnishings, and barking.
We can’t expect to be home 24/7 for our fluffy friends — which is why this kind of anxiety is so prevalent in dogs. But don’t worry — there are things you can do to help your pet before quitting your job! We’ll cover some useful strategies in this article but first we take a look at the three most common forms of anxiety in dogs. Read on!
3. Age-related Anxiety
The third most common kind of dog anxiety is age-related anxiety. This is a secondary effect of other age-related conditions such as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS), which impacts memory, perception, and awareness — similar to how the early stages of Alzheimer’s can affect humans — this newfound confusion stimulates a sense of anxiety in small everyday tasks and occurrences.
Dog Anxiety Symptoms:
Often, the symptoms of anxiety in dogs can appear to be simply bad behaviour or cross over with symptoms of other conditions, which makes anxiety in dogs a little tricky to recognise immediately. Because our precious fur-babies can’t tell us exactly what’s bothering them, it’s important to take them to the vet for a check-up before self-diagnosing. Nonetheless, here are some symptoms to look out for and bear in mind.
- Urinating or defecating in the house.
- Destructive behaviour.
- Excessive barking.
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviours.
One-off or occasional occurrences of these things are not an immediate sign that your dog is experiencing some kind of anxiety, but if you notice these symptoms become recurring behaviours then it’s a good indicator that something is going on. With stress, it is important to first consult your vet, they will check if the issue is in fact a more physical illness or condition first before jumping straight to anxiety as the problem — it’s always best to be sure.
More About Separation Anxiety
This is especially good to understand and be aware of as we return to work after lockdown where our pets became used to more hours of attention than they ever were before. Now all that extra love is the new normal for them and it’s probably going to be a shock for them when you’re not as home as much — especially to younger dogs. Their favourite human is now leaving them alone for most of the day. So, as you return to the office, keep an eye out for the following behaviours.
Urinating and defecating in the house are common symptoms of separation anxiety. Anxious dogs often work themselves up to the point that they let it all go in the house, even if they are well housetrained.
Destructive behaviour is also common with separation anxiety. The damage is usually around entry and exit points, like doorways and windows, but the most serious part of this destructive behaviour is the possibility for the dog to hurt themselves in their frantic state. If they have worked themselves into a hyper state and attempt to escape from a room, backyard or other area, they put themselves in danger of painful injuries and potentially pricey vet visits…
What To Do If Your Dog Has Anxiety
First things first — always go to your vet first. Your veterinarian will be able to help you come up with a treatment plan. Since excessive anxiety is often caused by a variety of factors, the best way to treat it is usually through a combination of training, preventive strategies, natural calming supplements and medications.
Training and Counterconditioning
Find yourself a good dog trainer to help if this is what’s needed. Raising good pups can be as hard as parenting actual babies sometimes — taking on the whole responsibility yourself while also trying to run your day to day lives can be overwhelming and disappointing if progress isn’t made quickly enough.
Common strategies that a dog trainer will use is counterconditioning — where the aim is to change a dog’s response to whatever the anxiety-inducing stimuli is. In other words, they will train the dog to sit or heel rather than bark or wind themselves up.
Another strategy is desensitization. The trainer will slowly introduce the dog to the source of anxiety, preferably in small doses. Repeated exposure and rewarding positive behaviour can go a long way toward managing anxiety.
For complex training like this, it’s best to contact a dog trainer who will be able to try a range of techniques and guide you through the process.
Anxiety Medication for Dogs
Some dogs may be prescribed antidepressants to alleviate their anxiety, you might also have heard of calming collars. Our preferred, natural calming aid for anxiety in dogs is hemp seed oil. While there have been no clinical trials done to prove the efficacy of hemp seed oil use for anxiety in pets, in human studies, hemp seed oil has been shown to reduce anxieties and disorders like PTSD. This is achieved through a combination of effects of the anti-inflammatory actions of the fatty acids, the antioxidant actions of Vitamin E and the anti-depressant actions of phytosterols. There’s strong evidence to support similar effects in our pet companions.
Hemp seed oil is also a power-packed nutritional supplement that provides vital fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and all essential minerals to support your pet’s overall wellbeing.
How Hemp Seed Oil Works to Ease Anxiety in Dogs?
Hemp seed oil is an excellent source of essential fatty acids, comprising approximately 35% of the seed. One tablespoon of hemp seed oil contains around 14 grams of fat, of which only 1 gram is saturated. This low saturated fat content is another great benefit of using hemp seed oil in place of animal fats. More specifically, hemp seed oil typically contains:
- High amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, oleic acid, linoleic acid (LA / omega-6), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA / omega-3) and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). The LA:ALA ratio normally exists in hemp seed oil at 3:1 level. This proportion has been proposed to be ideal for a healthy diet.
- Hemp is currently one of the very few natural food sources of GLA, i.e., not requiring the consumption of extracted dietary supplement. GLA is a key anti-inflammatory fat; it also regulates hormones and supports healthy skin and coat. GLA is considered “conditionally essential.” That means pets need to get GLA from their diet. LA converts to GLA but this conversion needs a specific enzyme (D6D) and five key nutrients (magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin B3, vitamin B6), all of which are abundant in hemp seed oil.
Magnesium plays a critical role in proper muscle function: it controls muscle contraction and acts as a muscle relaxant. Studies have found that feelings of fear and panic can be significantly reduced with greater magnesium intake.
B vitamins — specifically Vitamin B6 — helps with calming dogs through the process of converting 5HTP to the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin. Research suggests that higher levels of B6 can help shift the body from fight-or-flight mode to a more relaxed state. In a recent study, those with extreme stress reported greater improvement when taking B6 with magnesium compared to magnesium alone.
High levels of free radicals can lead to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is linked to depression and anxiety disorders. During times of stress and anxiety, the body uses up high amounts of vitamin E. Daily doses of vitamin E (antioxidant) can help restore the balance and increase the sense of calm.
Talk to you Vet about possible underlying causes of your pup’s anxiety and if hemp seed oil would be a good solution to help manage it.
At BUDDYPET, we recommend Marley hemp seed oil for anxiety in dogs. Add directly to food or have them lick it straight off a spoon. 99% of our customers report improvement in their pet’s mood after 2 weeks of daily use.