How can I tell if my dog is suffering from anxiety?

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One of the best things about having a dog is a happy wagging tail that wakes you up in the morning and greets you when you come home from work. Just like humans, dogs can suffer from stress and anxiety so when that tail stops wagging, it can be confusing for owners and hard to understand why, or to know what to do. Today, on National Stress Awareness Day, we wanted to generate awareness of anxiety in dogs; what causes it, how you can spot it and some tips to help.

Why do dogs suffer from anxiety?

Anxiety in dogs can stem from a variety of events and triggers. The most common source of anxiety is fear of new things, people and objects that haven’t been encountered before, such as vacuum cleaners, brooms, cars and other large objects. Anxious behaviour that stems from these encounters is often due to lack of socialisation during a dog’s early years.

The first 16-18 weeks of a puppy’s life are known as the ‘socialisation window’. The socialisation window is a crucial time for puppies to learn what is normal and what is to be feared in and around their various environments. During these first few weeks, it’s important to allow puppies to interact with a variety of other dogs (different breeds and different sizes) and introduce them to various situations, objects and people. This will allow them to develop confidence, good social skills when interacting with other dogs and prevent the development of specific anxieties in later life.

What behavioural signs should I look for?

Whilst our dogs cannot speak to us to tell us what’s wrong, they can still communicate with us by demonstrating different behaviours. Here are some of the common behaviours that a stressed or anxious dog might display:

  • Ears back
  • Restless or at high alert
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shaking, cowering or hiding
  • Excessive yawning
  • Licking lips
  • Panting
  • Growling or baring teeth
  • Biting or snapping
  • Barking or howling

How can I help my dog with anxiety?

Diet can play an important part in mental health, for both humans and dogs. Feeding your dog foods that include the natural amino acid tryptophan (such as turkey and oats) boost your dog’s serotonin levels which can reduce anxiety.

Just as exercise is known to relieve anxiety in humans, it’s also the same for dogs. Lots of exercise will burn off your dog’s energy, reducing the likelihood that they will become wound up or hypersensitive to fearful events. If your dog is highly anxious, consider exercising them at times when they are unlikely to encounter a fearful event to reduce anxiety triggers. For events that you can anticipate will be stressful such as Bonfire Night, New Years Eve and other national celebratory events, read our post here on: helping your dog to cope with party season >>

For especially severe cases of anxiety and fear, medications can be prescribed by your vet. Medication should always be used as a last resort and in conjunction with behavioural therapy if possible. We’ll be exploring more ways to help anxious dogs next month, so check back for more tips.

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