If you think your dog could be suffering from anxiety, the best plan of action is to find out its source so it can be eliminated, or at least reduced. The most common types of anxiety in a dog are general anxiety, former rescue dog anxiety, illness-induced anxiety, and separation anxiety. Before getting into the causes for each of them, let’s go over the anxiety symptoms that your dog might be displaying.
A tucked tail
Spontaneous elimination of urine or feces
Whining or whimpering
Sniffing the air (more so than usual)
As you can see, there are plenty of symptoms – and this isn’t even a comprehensive list. Your dog may not display every one, and it could even exhibit additional behaviors that aren’t on the list. One common factor shared by a lot of these signs is that the dog seems to be motivated by fight-or-flight impulses. Avoiding eye contact, whining, or hiding mean that it’s afraid of confrontation; chewing on furniture, dilated pupils, or pacing indicate that its defensive instincts could be getting triggered, even if they can’t identify a clear threat.
Any of these signs and symptoms could make an appearance from time to time; that’s completely normal when a dog feels uncomfortable with something. What isn’t normal is when your dog suddenly starts having any of these signs to an extreme degree, or has several of them for long periods of time. Once you can figure out what’s triggering your dog, you’ll be able to identify the kind of anxiety it has, and hopefully find the appropriate solution.
According to the National Service Animal Registry, general anxistry is the trickiest type to identify, especially since it’s often thought of as a characteristic of certain breeds. However, it could actually be from something that happened in the dog’s past; in that case it’s important to avoid scenarios that would make the dog think that history is repeating itself. Most of the time, though, the dog is just extremely uncomfortable due to a change in environment or routine. Some of the breeds most prone to feeling general anxiety are:
Chihuahuas and other toy breeds
King Charles Spaniel
If you think your dog might have general anxiety, the best approach would be to maintain a regular schedule, avoid excessive stimulation, and create an environment in which the dog won’t have too many surprises.
Former Rescue Dog Anxiety
By far the biggest cause of anxiety here is the fear of being abandoned. Rescue or shelter dogs experience a big change when they trade their former environment for a dog shelter; no matter how good the conditions are, they might not be able to process any of the positives about the situation due to their overall anxiety.
In addition to the abandonment factor, many dogs that end up at a shelter were traumatized before arriving. As if that weren’t enough to deal with, they then have to adjust to a completely different environment and routine at the shelter – only to adjust all over again after being adopted and arriving at their new home.
Their past experience has essentially given them trust issues, and any perceived disruption is a signal to them that they could be abandoned again. While this is hard for both the dog and its owners, at least it makes identifying the anxiety’s cause a little easier. The best solution is to make the daily routine as predictable as possible, so there’s absolutely no reason for the dog to think that its life is about to go off the rails again. A trainer or behaviorist might be able to pinpoint specific triggers, and make recommendations on how to relax the dog after a bout of anxiety.
Anxiety isn’t just a random symptom for some diseases; the dog becomes anxious because it knows that something is definitely wrong, but it doesn’t know what to do about it. Some diseases that are commonly associated with anxiety in dogs are:
Hypothyroidism. This is what happens when a dog’s thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones, resulting in hair loss, lack of energy, and/or weight gain. If you notice that your dog is displaying signs of anxiety along with any of these other symptoms, it might be time to get its thyroid checked out.
Thyrotoxicosis. Another illness that affects the dog’s thyroid, but much rarer.
Encephalitis. This causes brain tissue to become swollen and inflamed, resulting in possible anxiety, aggression, a clumsy gait, seizures, or a coma.
Vision or hearing loss. When a dog starts losing one or more of its senses, it can’t keep tabs on its surroundings as well; this makes it very nervous and easily startled. Anxiety is almost inevitable for as long as it takes the dog to adjust.
Pre-diabetes. If your dog presents with cataracts, weight gain, or excessive thirst that’s accompanied by anxiety, it could be pre-diabetic.
Many dogs won’t have a problem with this, but then dogs aren’t naturally inclined to enjoy solitude. They’re pack animals, so when a dog finds itself alone, its brain starts sending signals that something’s wrong. This can result in all kinds of misbehavior – peeing on the carpet, eating the couch, barking, whining, or howling. Some dogs only develop this type of anxiety once they approach old age, mainly due to deteriorating memories that lead to intense feelings of insecurity.
This type of anxiety could be a little tougher to fix since leaving usually can’t be avoided, but there are still some things that could help. Take the dog on a walk, offer a stuffed treat toy, and avoid making a fuss about leaving.
It might not always be clear what’s causing your dog’s anxiety, but a little extra love and care never hurt. Just know that if there’s something causing the anxiety, there’s probably a solution as well. If you can find it and fix it, both you and your dog will feel better.