Wait a minute, dogs have anxiety too? Heck yes.! ‘Dognitive’ therapist, Laura Vissaritis says “MRIs of dogs have shown they have emotions, fear and anxiety like us...mental health is a massive problem with dogs”.
In fact, man’s best friend has the title for a reason - they are more like us than we may think. A study published in 2019 found that dogs have evolved facial muscles over the 33 thousand years since their domestication which allow them to show better facial expressions - all to communicate with us humans a little better! How neat is that?
You may have also heard or noticed that dogs - and other animals - can sense your emotions. Somehow, they know when you are upset or stressed and will usually behave in some sort of way to ‘protect’ or ‘comfort’ you. A study also published in 2019 confirmed that not only can dogs pick up on chronic stress and anxiety in their owners, but they actually have corresponding elevated cortisol levels - meaning they are matching your anxiety.
So how many dogs have anxiety? Well, there are approximately 5 million dogs in Australia and statistics suggest 40% off domestic dogs will suffer some kind of anxiety at any one time. That’s 2 million dogs suffering some level of anxiety - poor pups!
Let’s get down to it...How do you know if your dog has anxiety? What can you do to treat anxious dogs? We’re here to explain everything you need to know about dog anxiety — common causes, symptoms, and treatments.
Firstly, there are 3 common kinds of anxiety in dogs.
Fear-related anxiety can be caused by loud noises, strange people or animals, bright or invasive visual stimuli like hats or umbrellas, unfamiliar environments, specific situations — like the vet’s office — or surfaces like sand or tiled floors. Although most dogs may only have short-term and situational reactions to these kinds of fears, anxious dogs may be more affected in an ongoing manner.
Around 14% of dogs are affected by separation anxiety. This kind of anxiety occurs in dogs when they are left alone, away from their owners and are unable to find any sense of comfort without the owner there. Often the results of this kind of anxiety in dogs are a range of ‘naughty’ behaviours - urinating & defecating inside, destroying or damaging furniture/surroundings and persistent barking.
Dogs with separation anxiety are unable to find comfort when they are left alone or separated from their family members. This anxiety often manifests itself in undesirable behaviors, such as urinating and defecating in the house, destroying furniture and furnishings, and barking.
Obviously, we can’t expect to be home 24/7 for our fluffy friends - which is why this kind of anxiety is so prevalent in dogs. But don’t worry - there is something other than you quitting your job that will help! We’ll cover that further down this article.
The third most common kind of dog anxiety is age-related anxiety. This is a secondary effect of other age-related conditions such as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS), which impacts memory, perception and awareness - similar to how the early stages of Alzheimer’s can affect humans - this newfound confusion stimulates a sense of anxiety in small everyday tasks and occurrences.
Dog Anxiety Symptoms:
Often, the symptoms of anxiety in dogs can appear to be simply bad behaviour or cross over with symptoms of other conditions, which makes anxiety in dogs a little tricky to recognise immediately. Because our precious furbabies can’t tell us exactly what’s bothering them, it’s important to take them to the vet for a check up before self-diagnosing. Nonetheless, here are some symptoms to look out for and bear in mind.
- Urinating or defecating in the house.
- Destructive behavior.
- Excessive barking.
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviors.
One-off or occasional occurrences of these things are not an immediate sign that your dog is experiencing some kind of anxiety, but if you notice these become recurring behaviours then it’s a good indicator that something is going on. We stress, it is important to first consult your vet, they will check if the issue is in fact a more physical illness or condition first before jumping straight to anxiety as the problem - it’s always best to be sure.
More About Separation Anxiety
This is especially good to learn about as we return to work after spending 2020 at home - giving our pets hours of more attention than they were first used to. Now all of that extra love is the new normal and it’s probably going to be a shock - especially to younger dogs - that their favourite human is now leaving them alone for the majority of the day. So as you return to the office, keep an eye out for the following behaviours.
Urinating and defecating in the house is a common symptom of separation anxiety. Anxious dogs often work themselves up to the point that they let it all go in the house, even if they are well housetrained.
Destructive behavior is also common with separation anxiety. The damage is usually around entry and exit points, like doorways and windows, but the most serious part of this destructive behaviour is the possibility for the dog to hurt themselves in their frantic state. If they have worked themselves into a hyper state and attempt to escape from a room, backyard or other area, they put themselves in danger of painful injuries and potentially pricey vet visits...
What To Do If Your Dog Has Anxiety
First things first - always go to your vet first. Your veterinarian will be able to help you come up with a treatment plan. Since excessive anxiety is often caused by a variety of factors, the best way to treat it is usually through a combo of training, preventive strategies, and possibly medications.
Training and Counterconditioning
Find yourself a good dog trainer to help if this is what’s needed. Raising good pups can be as hard as parenting actual babies sometimes - taking on the whole responsibility yourself while also trying to run your day to day lives can be overwhelming and disappointing if progress isn’t made quickly enough.
Common strategies that a dog trainer will use is counterconditioning - where the aim is to change to dog’s response to whatever the anxiety-inducing stimuli is. E.g. they will train the dog to sit or heel rather than bark or wind themselves up.
Another strategy is desensitization. The trainer will slowly introduce the dog to the source of anxiety, preferably in small doses. Repeated exposure and rewarding positive behavior can go a long way toward managing anxiety.
For complex training like this, it’s best to contact a dog trainer who will be able to try a range of techniques and guide you, as an owner, through the process.
Anxiety Medication for Dogs
Some dogs may be prescribed antidepressants to alleviate their anxiety, you might also have heard of calming collars you can purchase for your dog.
Our preferred preventative & treatment for anxiety in dogs is Hemp Seed Oil. While there have been no significant studies done to prove the efficacy of hemp seed oil or CBD oil in pets, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from pet owners using hemp seed oil to suggest that this glorious green oil can be life-changing. The best part about using hemp seed oil is that because it is a natural product there is an extremely low risk of adverse reactions and also, if the hemp seed oil doesn’t effectively treat your dog’s anxiety, it will at least serve as a power-packed nutritional supplement, providing vital omegas, amino acids & vitamins that contribute to overall wellbeing including skin health & fur texture, brain and heart health and joint health. Basically, you can’t go wrong with a few drops of hemp seed oil.
So how exactly does hemp seed oil work to help with anxiety in dogs?
Hemp seed oil is packed with large amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 fats (unsaturated or ‘good fats’) in a perfect ratio of 3:1, and all 21 amino acids which the body needs to make protein, as well as a spectacular number of vital vitamins and minerals.
High levels of amino acid tryptophan is particularly helpful with managing anxiety & mood.
This is because Tryptophan is one of the 10 amino acids in dogs which form the building blocks of protein.
Of the functions amino acids are required for, tryptophan in dogs is of particular importance for the production of hormones and neurotransmitters.
Put simply, it helps with the following:
Melatonin: a hormone that regulates sleep and seasonal reproduction.
Serotonin: a neurotransmitter that regulates things like mood, sleep and appetite.
Vitamin B3: also known as Niacin, this vitamin helps to prevent deficiencies such as mouth ulcers and loss of appetite associated with weight loss and anorexia in dogs.
B vitamins – specifically Vitamin B6 – helps with calming dogs through the process of converting 5HTP to the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin.
Magnesium is vital in helping your pup with all bodily functions and moods. Magnesium aids in the contracting and relaxing of muscles as well as muscle regeneration. It also plays an important role in your dog’s mental and emotional well-being.
Does hemp seed oil really help anxious dogs? Check out what our customers have to say:
Lesley Skellly : Marley - Hemp Seed Oil for Optimal Health
“Since giving Mishka these drops she is more mobile and her anxiety and separation issues have eased considerably.”
“Since giving the oil to my dog, she has become a different dog altogether, she's happy and playful and her Anxiety is a whole lot better, she now takes it from the dropper without any problems. I am convinced that she knows it helps her.”
Lesley Gaze : 100% Raw Hemp Seed Oil for Cats 50ml
Hemp seed oil for cats
“This is one of the better products I have used for cats in my boarding cattery. I seen dramatic improvement in mobility in older cats, calmness in anxious cats and it helps quieten cats that are noisy at night. I would definitely recommend this product.”
Check out more of our Hemp products for Pets here.