STRESS AND ANXIETY IN DOGS: SYMPTOMS AND TREATMENTS
Stress is a modern-day phenomenon which, unfortunately, affects animals as well as humans. These days, we live our lives at 100 miles an hour and our four-legged friends can often suffer as a result. However, there are plenty of other reasons why your pooch could be experiencing stress or dog anxiety. As pet owners, it's up to us to stay aware of our dogs' emotions and react as early as possible before mood swings or depression take hold.
The Signs of Anxiety in Dogs
The symptoms of stress in dogs can be varied. There's no need to be alarmed at the first sign of anxiety in your dog; many symptoms are natural and short-lived. You should only be concerned if you notice that certain symptoms persist or become more frequent. The most obvious sign of anxiety in dogs is the accumulation of several of these symptoms or a drastic behaviour change. In this case, make an appointment as soon as possible with your veterinarian.
If dog anxiety sets in, it can cause constant suffering for your pooch, both psychologically and physically. Here are some of the main symptoms of anxiety in dogs. This is by no means an exhaustive list but it will give you an indication of whether your pooch has an issue.
Self-Harm, Including Excessive Licking or Chewing
Your dog might lick their genitals too much or even nibble on them. Excessive licking can also cause sores. If your dog seems to have an excessive need to clean themselves, this is a sign of stress.
If your dog bares their teeth for no reason, and it's out of character, it may be because they're feeling insecure. Dogs do this to protect themselves, so if there is no cause to speak of, it's probably due to discomfort and dog anxiety.
Signs of Poor Health
Does it seem like your dog is sleeping too much or at least a lot more than usual? They may be depressed. This may also be the case if they suffer from repetitive diarrhoea or vomiting. Be careful, these symptoms can also indicate a twisted stomach. Consult your vet before coming to any conclusion. Symptoms such as bulimia, anorexia, or excessive hair loss may also be linked to stress and anxiety in dogs.
Conversely, anxiety in dogs can manifest as hyperactivity, incessant to-ing and fro-ing, and repetitive barking without reason. Your dog may also follow you around the house, constantly demanding attention, or start behaving destructively when you're not around. If this is the case, it's usually because your pooch is feeling agitated and doesn't know how to release their stress. There is no mistaking the signs: dogs who exhibit uncharacteristically destructive behaviour are usually suffering from loneliness and separation anxiety, or they've been cooped up for too long.
Always on the Lookout
If your dog is always on guard, they're probably suffering from dog anxiety. Some signs are more obvious than others: ears pricked, eyes wide open, dilated pupils, tensed muscles, etc. Your dog may also whimper if they're constantly alert and cannot calm down. If your pooch puts their tail between their paws, this is to signal that they're afraid or feeling very unwell.
Other Behavioural Problems
Other unusual behaviours can indicate feelings of stress or anxiety in dogs:
Repetitive panting for no reason (causing a rapid heartbeat)
How to Treat Anxiety in Dogs
If your dog is suffering from anxiety, the first thing you need to do is find and deal with the root of the problem. Otherwise, you risk simply easing the symptoms for a while, without addressing the underlying issue. This means your dog’s anxiety could easily relapse.
Dogs are sociable animals who need stability and stimulation. If your dog has been cooped up because you don't have the time to take them out, look no further: this is the problem. On the other hand, large dogs need space to exercise. In general, all dogs are sensitive to routine and may struggle with any sudden change in their life. Finally, a dog can also mirror their owner: if you yourself are anxious, you need to take care of yourself first of all.
In order to understand the cause of your dog's anxiety, ask yourself what could be causing their discomfort:
A death or birth in the family
The arrival of another animal
A dietary change or poor diet
Loneliness or boredom
Separation anxiety or estrangement
Unusual noises (fireworks, thunderstorms, gunshots, firecrackers, etc.)
Unsociable temperament - your dog may feel stressed when there are people in the house
Health problems - stress can be caused by pain
Recent or past trauma
To treat your dog's anxiety, you have several options. You don't have to take this on alone; you can always go to your vet or a canine behaviour specialist to help you fix the problem.
Avoid situations that make your dog anxious
Reassure your dog when they feel vulnerable or attacked (with cuddles and/or treats)
Get them used to being alone for short periods while you go out
Give them attention
Take them to exercise outdoors, if possible
Confront your dog's fear in a progressive, non-violent way
While behavioural work is very important, there are also certain medications and natural products that you can use to reduce stress and anxiety in dogs:
Homoeopathic remedies, as prescribed by your veterinarian
Food supplements, as recommended by your veterinarian
Pheromones (in the form of a diffuser or collar)
Essential oils for dogs
Bach flower remedies (walnut, wild apple, holly, cherry plum, etc.)
How Do I Train My Dog to Deal with My Absence?
Most dogs get stressed out because of a fear of abandonment, which causes separation anxiety. To avoid this, you can change your behaviour when leaving the house. The goal is to make you coming and going completely normal for your dog:
Give your dog something to entertain them while you leave (games or food)
Repeat the same rituals (keys, coat, etc.) even when you're not leaving the house so that your dog doesn't only associate these gestures with you leaving
Ignore your dog when you leave, for short absences as well as long ones
Ignore your dog when you come home as if nothing happened, and wait a few minutes before petting them - just like any other time of the day
Don't let your pooch follow you everywhere - you can even ban them from certain spaces in the house
PUBLISHED 31.12.2020 - HECTOR KITCHEN, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
By the Hector Kitchen medical and scientific team
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