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Everyone Is Feeling More Anxious These Days, Including Our Dogs

Photo: Courtesy of Matthew Henry

Dr. Jerry Klein

Chief Veterinary Officer, American Kennel Club

Fear, separation, and aging or confusion are the major causes of anxiety in dogs. Fear-related anxiety can be triggered by loud noises, strange people or animals, visual stimuli like hats or umbrellas, new or strange environments, specific situations like the vet’s office, or even surfaces like wood floors.

By far the most dangerous expression of fear anxiety is aggression. This aggression can be targeted directly or indirectly, depending on the situation. Direct aggression occurs when a dog acts aggressively toward people or other animals. Indirect aggression can be equally dangerous, and often happens when a person comes between the dog and the source of the dog’s aggression, such as another dog. 

Separation anxiety is estimated to affect about 15 percent of dogs. Dogs with separation anxiety are unable to find comfort when they are left alone or separated from their family members. Though this condtion can involve any dog, there are certain breeds which may have a higher genetic predisposition to display more severe symptoms of separation anxiety, especially in some of the herding type breeds, where generations have been bred to work as herders or protectors of their “flock.”

Separation anxiety may manifest itself in undesirable behaviors, such as urinating and defecating in the house, destruction, and excessive barking. Attempts to break out of dog crates, windows, and even doors can result in painful injuries.

In the current climate of the pandemic, many owners are living and working from the home. Our pets’ former routines may have been interrupted and they now are getting accustomed to having their best friends around 24/7. When people go back to their former work routine, it is very possible that we may see an increase in numbers of pets exhibiting this type of anxiety.

Age-related anxiety affects older dogs and can be associated with cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). In dogs with CDS, lack of memory, awareness, or perception leads to confusion similar to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in humans.

The best way to treat anxiety is to talk with a veterinarian as early as possible. Behavioral issues have a much greater chance of improving the sooner they are addressed. Veterinarians must first rule out any medical conditions that could be causing the symptoms.

Your vet can then help you come up with a treatment plan for your dog’s anxiety. The best way to treat it is usually through a combination of basic obedience training — which gives dogs confidence through proper exercise, counterconditioning, and preventative strategies — and in some cases, prescription medications. There have also been very promising studies on dogs with separation anxiety improving with the use of collar-like devices using targeted pulsed electromagnetic field (tPEMF).

Don’t allow your dog’s anxiety to ruin your life or their own. With the right treatment strategy, you can help your dog overcome his anxiety. If you think your dog might have anxiety, talk to your veterinarian today.

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