Just like us, dogs can experience stress and anxiety in handling life’s everyday events. Whilst it’s not unusual for dogs to show signs of distress from time-to-time, it’s important to understand that recognising and planning for your dog’s anxiety can play a pivotal role in managing it. Here are five things you need to know about the worries of our pets:
1. Anxiety is now one of the most pressing health concerns facing dogs
The incidence of anxiety in our pets has grown steadily over recent years, with more than 70 per cent of Australian dogs now displaying signs of anxiety. Australian veterinarian Dr Andrew McKay believes anxiety is one of the most pressing health concerns facing dogs at this time, driven by a dramatic increase in dog ownership since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. With many owners now returning to the workplace, separation anxiety is presenting a significant challenge for many of our family pets who have grown accustomed to enjoying the company of others.
2. Why is my dog anxious?
Whilst certain breeds may be prone to anxiety including Cocker Spaniels, Schnauzers and Dachshunds, anxiety can affect all breeds. Although the reasons may vary, anxiety is generally the result of a change in either routine, environment or activity. But every dog is different, and anxiety can impact dogs in different ways.
Common types of anxiety in dogs include:
Dogs can often display disruptive or destructive behaviour when left alone, which is of particular concern to owners in a post-COVID environment. Symptoms of distress are often the result of being separated from their regular caretakers. Separation anxiety and pet travel can also prove a very challenging combination.
Sirens, alarms, thunderstorms and fireworks are examples of environmental stressors that can trigger anxiety in dogs. Even a fear of visiting certain locations can cause anxiety in pets, such as a vet clinic.
Lack of frequent socialisation or history of trauma may trigger anxiety for pets when in the presence of unfamiliar people or other dogs.
Whilst many dogs love the prospect of riding in cars alongside their owners, some pets can become highly distressed, either from being in a car or agitated by other moving vehicles. And for many dogs, a car ride means a visit to the vet!
3. Signs your dog may be experiencing anxiety
A change in behaviour is the best indication your dog may be anxious, including:
- Frequent barking or howling
- Pacing and panting, even when it’s not hot
- Running away or cowering
- Tremoring and hiding before and during thunderstorms
- Vocalisation, marking and changes in appetite
- Becoming more aggressive around other dogs or people
- Urinating or defecating in the house
4. How to support an anxious dog
As with people, the earlier you recognise signs of anxiety or stress, the greater success you will have in managing or overcoming it. Nobody knows your pet like you do, so if you see your dog showing tell-tale signs of anxiety, here’s what to do:
Speak with your vet!
Your vet can help to identify the possible causes and triggers of your dog’s anxiety, rule-out any possible medical conditions, and formulate the best treatment plan. This may be a combination of behavioural training, pre-emptive strategies, supplements, and for more serious cases, medication.
The best way to manage your dog’s anxiety is to plan ahead, especially for pets struggling in a post-COVD environment. Ask family, friends or your next-door neighbour to look after your dog (or to pay a visit when you’re at work). Speak to your employer about bringing your dog to the office, or flexible work arrangements to help acclimatise your pet to your absence. If funds allow, doggy day care is another great option.
Regular exercise, safe spaces and affection
Regular exercise is great way to relieve nervous tension following your absence, as is creating a safe space where your dog can feel comfortable and secure when you’re not home. And never underestimate the power of a hug in helping our pets feel safe and secure, especially during environmental stressors such as thunderstorms or fireworks.
Alternative methods of support for anxious dogs
Many dog owners are exploring more unconventional methods of support for anxious pets.
Anxious dog collars
Anxious dog collars enable owners to clearly identify to others that their pet is prone to anxiety, helping people unfamiliar with your dog to be more mindful and sensitive when engaging with your pet.
Thunderstorm vests are special jackets that apply light pressure to your dog’s body when worn, providing extra comfort and security, similar to how a newborn baby is swaddled in a blanket.
Music therapy is also being used to help calm dogs when they’re home alone or in kennels, with special dog music therapy playlists available on YouTube. A 2017 study conducted by the Scottish SPCA and the University of Glasgow found that while classical music initially provided a calming effect on dogs, reggae and soft rock outperformed other genres for reducing stress, barking and heart rates.
5. Supplements for anxiety and stress
Quality supplements may help relieve symptoms of anxiety. ZamiPet Relax & Calm is specially formulated with L-Tryptophan, Valerian Root and Chamomile to support a healthy nervous system in dogs and may reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Disclaimer: This information is general advice only. Before starting any treatment or supplement with your pet, please consult your vet first for the best approach to getting your pet back to their best health.