How to Treat Canine Panic Attacks

By Jodi Thornton O'Connell

While it's not unusual for a dog to show anxiety from time to time during his life, full blown panic attacks put your dog at serious risk for injury. A panic attack may cause a dog to bolt -- such as from fireworks, the vacuum cleaner or thunder -- heedless of traffic, glass doors or other dangers in the environment. Separation anxiety is another common cause of panic attacks in dogs. Know what to do when your dog panics to prevent serious injury to your pet.

When Panic Strikes

Remain calm. A calm voice and gentle but assertive manner will go a long way toward helping your dog know you are in control of the situation. Confine your dog to his crate, let him hide under the bed, or find him another quiet spot where you can keep an eye on him until the panic passes. Try involving his attention with a favorite game, using treats as rewards. If you're outside together, using a harness instead of a collar helps prevent a panicky dog from choking himself as he pulls to get away.

Get your dog a checkup. Take your dog to the vet to see if a medical concern is causing the panic attacks. Ear infections can exacerbate pain when your dog hears loud noises such as thunder, and neurological problems can cause him to be unnaturally fearful. Your vet will examine your dog for injuries or trauma and may prescribe medication to help soothe his mood. He may also recommend seeing an animal behaviorist or other treatments such as food therapy or dietary supplements for his panic attacks.

Get professional help. A professional dog behaviorist can help you train your dog to respond properly to stimuli that may be triggering his attack. By observing your dog's responses and evaluating past history, the behaviorist can provide a specialized course of action for changing your dog's behavior. For example, if your dog panics when left alone in the home, your dog trainer may help you create a safe denlike environment with a crate and train your dog to go there when he needs to feel secure.

Wrap him up. Some dogs exhibit less anxiety when wearing a Thundershirt or other snug-fitting apparel around their chest and abdomen. Make sure your dog has been examined for any injuries before using a shirt and that the shirt is the proper size to avoid cutting off circulation or causing other injury. Always watch your dog when he is wearing the shirt to make sure he does not try to remove it and end up strangling himself. Homemade substitutes for a Thundershirt include wrapping him in ace bandages, an old t-shirt or a towel. The trick is to apply the material in a way that hugs the dog slightly, putting pressure on his chest, back and sides.