How to… Help an anxious dog
As loving pet owners, we want our dogs to lead happy and stress-free lives.
It can be upsetting for us to see our dogs suffer with stress or anxiety, especially if we don’t know how to help.
Prolonged anxiety can have some challenging long-term effects, so it’s important to spot the symptoms early on.
Let’s take a look at how to identify the signs of stress & anxiety in dogs, the causes of stress and what to do if you’re concerned.
Stress and anxiety: what’s the difference?
Stress and anxiety are often used in the same sentence and may have similar signs, but they are slightly different.
Stress is caused by external factors. It’s a reaction to something occurring within the dog’s environment. I.e. if a firework goes off, a dog becomes stressed. Once the fireworks stop or the dog can no longer hear them, their stress levels are reduced.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is caused by internal factors. I.e. if a dog hears fireworks and becomes incredibly stressed, this may lead to anxiety - which persists long after the fireworks have ended. Anxiety is more difficult to treat because, unlike stress, it isn’t always tied to one root cause.
Signs of anxiety in dogs
Your dog may be stressed or anxious if they display any of the following signs:
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Hiding away
- Lip licking
- Fearful body language (cowering, tail between the legs)
- Lethargy or excessive sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Fear or discomfort around people and other animals
- Fear of you leaving the house
- Behaviour problems
- Other changes in behaviour
If your dog shows any of the signs above, it’s useful to have a chat with your vet for 3 reasons:
- Most of these signs also occur with other conditions. Your vet will check your dog thoroughly and accurately diagnose their condition - whether it’s anxiety or not. After the diagnosis, they’ll recommend a suitable treatment plan.
- If left untreated, anxiety can weaken your dog’s immune system. Anxious dogs may develop further health conditions as a result of their anxiety.
- Anxiety is unpleasant for dogs as well as humans. If left untreated, it could get worse and your dog’s quality of life may start to deteriorate.
Anxiety is often a by-product of stress. But what makes dogs stressed? They have no deadlines or exams after all!
Lots of scenarios can cause dogs to suffer stress, including:
- The arrival of a new baby
- A new pet
- Noises from outside i.e. thunderstorms or fireworks
- The moving of furniture
- A strange artefact brought into the home (i.e. Halloween masks)
- Birds or wildlife outside
- Being separated from their owner (separation anxiety)
If a dog is exposed to more than one of these potential causes, for a prolonged amount of time, their stress may lead to anxiety. That said, anxiety doesn’t always have a fixed root cause. For example a rescue dog, abused by a previous owner, may suffer anxiety without being exposed to stressful stimuli.
The solution will depend on what’s causing your dog’s stress. For example, if you’ve welcomed a new pet or newborn baby to your home, you can’t just get rid of them!
Prevent stress with a slow and steady introduction
Try to introduce your dog to the new arrival in stages. Gradually introducing them to the sight, sound and smell of your new pet/baby can really help.
If you’re redecorating or getting your house ready for Christmas, reduce stress by making changes gradually, over a few days if you can.
Provide your dog with a safe hideout
Always make sure your dog has somewhere safe and comfortable they can visit when they’re overwhelmed. This is especially useful during firework and Halloween season. If your dog does hide away in their crate/hideout, take care not to disturb.
Don’t underestimate the value of exercise
Lots of physical exercise and mental stimulation (such as walks and playtime) will help your dog channel their nervous energy. Couple this with a healthy diet and your dog’s immune system will be operating at its best!
Steer clear of punishment
If your dog’s stress or anxiety causes them to behave in a destructive manner, avoid punishing them. In your dog’s mind, punishment just makes stressful situations even more stressful; their anxiety will get worse, leading to more destructive behaviour in the long run.
Don’t be scared to ask for help
If you’ve done all you can to ease your dog’s stress & anxiety and their symptoms persist, have a chat with your local vet. There are lots of treatments available for stress & anxiety in dogs and they’ll happily advise you on how to help your furry friend.
We recommend Vetpro: Stress & anxiety - developed and approved by expert vets and gets to work in just one hour!
Need more info?
For expert advice on treatment for stress and reducing your dog’s anxiety, get in touch with your local vet.