Does My Dog Have Anxiety?

And how to help an anxious pup 💕

Have you ever wondered if your dog has anxiety?

Believe it or not, dogs can totally experience this common human emotion. And just like people, some dogs can be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

This means some dogs don’t just experience anxiety occasionally like most do, but they can experience heightened or chronic feelings that need to be addressed by a veterinarian.

To understand what anxiety in dogs looks like, The Dodo reached out to Dr. Walter Burghardt, Jr., a veterinarian at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital, for some insight.

What causes anxiety in dogs?

According to Dr. Burghardt, your dog can become stressed and anxious for a number of reasons, like:

  • When she encounters new people or animals
  • When she encounters a new place
  • An unexpected event that she associates with a stressful experience

“In addition, there appears to be a significant number of dogs that have more of an anxious temperament and have a lower tolerance for changes in their environment,” Dr. Burghardt told The Dodo.

This means that all dogs are different and, just like with people, one dog may have a lower threshold than another when it comes to dealing with stressful situations, like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Signs of anxiety in dogs

According to Dr. Burghardt, there is a spectrum of anxiety-related behaviors in dogs, ranging from mild to severe anxiety.

Signs of mild anxiety

Mild anxiety can show itself in fairly subtle ways — like lip-licking, increased yawning and increased (or decreased) activity.

Signs of moderate anxiety

Moderate anxiety is often associated with changes in body posture — like tail-tucking and flattening of the ears. Moderate anxiety might also include physiological changes like increased heart rate, respiration and dilated pupils.

Signs of severe anxiety

Severe anxiety is usually associated with stronger physiological arousal, and might include strong attempts to escape or avoid the scary experience (and might even include aggressive behavior), hiding or even freezing and not moving at all.

How to treat anxiety in dogs

Treatment of anxiety is dependent on a few things:

  • The source of the anxiety
  • The intensity and duration of the anxiety
  • How often your dog’s behavior is affected by anxiety

“For more severe and more frequent cases, anxiety is usually treated with one or more medications to help reduce distress and physiological arousal, environmental changes to reduce the distressing characteristics of a scary event, and behavior modification aimed at improving the patient's confidence in the scary situation,” Dr. Burghardt said.

If your dog is experiencing more mild anxiety, this can usually be treated with environmental changes, desensitizing your dog to the scary situation and working on building your pup’s confidence — all with the help and advice from your vet or dog behaviorist.

You can also try some tricks to help calm down an anxious dog, like:

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Can you prevent anxiety in dogs?

According to Dr. Burghardt, there are ways to help prevent your dog from becoming a ball of anxiety — and it starts with how you raise her.

“Especially during development, rewarded, nonthreatening exposure to lots of different situations, people, pets and events can help improve a dog's confidence in their world,” Dr. Burghardt said.

If your dog has had limited exposure to the world around her, she may be more likely to develop stress with new experiences. “Keeping exposure to novel events fun for the dog can go a long way, but watching for mild distress and reacting appropriately are two skills worth honing as you go,” Dr. Burghardt added.

If you suspect that your dog suffers from not-so-normal anxious behaviors, reach out to your veterinarian to have her evaluated.

Working on her anxiety together will be the best thing you can do to help her feel more comfortable in this sometimes scary world.

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