Like people, dogs experience anxiety occasionally in response to stressful or unfamiliar situations, but if anxiety is frequent, it can lead to other behavioral issues if it is not addressed. Anxiety issues are generally problems considered outside the normal range of behavior or are reactions that are too intense to manage immediately. A dog panic attack can be prevented with medication and behavior modification.
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The most common types of dog anxiety are fear — which can be a reaction to loud noises, strange people, or a new environment — and separation anxiety, which results when a dog is left alone and can't cope. Age-related anxiety is a third cause of anxiety in dogs that is often associated with canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). This is a unique anxiety requiring its own understanding and treatment.
Symptoms of dog anxiety
Symptoms of dog anxiety usually begin with a noticeable, unwanted behavior but can be any combination of destructive chewing, aggression, excreting in the house, drooling, panting, excessive barking, pacing, circling, and any obvious repetitive or compulsive activity. Clearly, happy cues, like tail wagging and elevated ears, are not occurring during this time. Note that fear to a perceived threat is a normal response, while anxiety is an exaggerated or prolonged response.
Because dog anxiety can have many causes, the first step is to consult a veterinarian to determine if this is a behavior or a medical issue. Treatment might be training or a combination of training and medication. In some cases, avoiding the offending situation or trigger is the best option. However, you first need to identify the type of anxiety.
Social anxieties can be soothed by introducing your dog to other animals and people slowly, making the experience as positive as possible. Leashed dogs are more likely to be reactive, especially when one dog is leashed and the other isn't. Previous experiences can also influence or trigger a dog's response. Dog day care and group training classes can sometimes help social anxiety issues.
Treatment for dog separation anxiety
Separation anxiety can sometimes be helped by crate training, especially if the dog associates the crate as a safe space and learns to self-sooth there. However, too much time in a crate can cause anxiety. Noise anxiety, such as fear of thunderstorms, can be quelled with positive reinforcement, such as giving the dog treats and toys when it starts to rain.
Ultimately, medication might be necessary. Antidepressants, such as fluoxetine and clomipramine, can be prescribed for dogs in appropriate dosages. Where allowed by law, some vets are supporting the use of CBD oil to prevent both dog anxiety and panic attacks. CBD is a compound found in cannabis and hemp; however, it's still unregulated in many regions, so the quality and purity is difficult to measure, especially in over-the-counter products. Products sourced by a veterinary clinic are likely the most effective.
Dog panic attack
A dog panic attack is an episode of anxiety that becomes so intense that it needs immediate intervention or even medical treatment. The longer the dog is afraid or panicked, the more aggressive the dog might become. Symptoms are similar to anxiety but are more severe, including sudden panting or trembling, excessive salivation, and frantic circling.
First, attempt to distract him with calming things for dogs, such as a toy or favorite blanket. Sooth him with massage, brushing, or by wrapping him in a blanket. The goal is to de-escalate the anxiety and discourage aggression, so yelling, anger, or sharp commands will not help.
If the panic attack subsides even a little, try walking him outside on a leash to distract him and stimulate his mind to focus on other things. If panic attacks are frequent or grow in severity, veterinary intervention is likely necessary. If your dog is elderly, canine CDS might be the cause. Only an ultrasound can definitively diagnose CDS.