How to Tell if Your Dog is Suffering from Anxiety

5 min read
How to Tell if Your Dog is Suffering from Anxiety - Animals Matter, Inc.

Does your dog act anxious when in new situations or while meeting new people or animals? Don't worry, you're not alone! Dog anxiety is one of the most common, and worrisome, problems that pet parents face. Dogs that spin or dogs that twirl are just a couple of the quirkier aspects of a deeper problem. Learning to read your dog's body language is essential in identifying an anxious dog.

What is Dog Anxiety?

Dog anxiety can take several different forms. It is also triggered by different causes. According to veterinarian Rebecca MacMillan, lack of socialization as a puppy or a bad or scary experience at any age can trigger fear-related anxiety. Underlying health issues like illness, tooth pain, arthritis, a loss of vision, or hearing loss can also cause your pet to become anxious.

The different types of anxiety your pet may be suffering from:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Fear-related anxiety
  • Noise phobias
  • Age-related anxiety

Dogs are pack animals and don't like being left alone when their human pack leaves. The stress of being separated from his pack for even a short time can cause your dog to act out in inappropriate ways due to separation anxiety.

Your dog may experience fear-related anxiety only under specific circumstances. Those stressful situations might include meeting new people (especially if they come to your house), going to the vet, or riding in a vehicle. If your pup stresses out over car rides (even when it's not a trip to the vet!) a doggie car seat or dog travel hammock can help him feel safe and secure. After all, it's hard to relax when you're being thrown all over the backseat with every turn!

Noise phobias are another big stressor for dogs. Thunderstorms and fireworks are the two biggest triggers, but many dogs are also afraid of gunshots, vacuum cleaners, and construction noises. Even traffic noise can cause especially sensitive pups to experience anxiety.

Many dogs aged nine and older develop at least a few symptoms of Alzheimer's-like Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCDS). Dogs with CCDS may not recognize people they know, forget commands and tricks they were once great at, have trouble finding their food and water bowls, and exhibit other symptoms of impaired thinking.

Changes in behavior due to CCDS commonly include forgetting the housetraining they've been perfect at for years, getting stuck in corners or between furniture and the wall, and wandering aimlessly. Some older dogs start experiencing age-related anxiety due to the confusion caused by this cognitive decline.

If you suspect that your dog has CCDS, it's important to have your vet check him out right away. Early evaluation and multi-faceted treatment can help slow the progression of this devastating disease and give you and your dog more quality time together.

How to Tell If Your Dog Has Anxiety

Dogs exhibit symptoms of anxiety in different ways. Some stressed-out dogs will appear nervous and unhappy. Other dogs may vent their anxiety through destructiveness or even aggression. Learning to properly read your dog's body language will help you know when he's feeling anxious.

Below are some of the most common signs of an anxious dog. Your dog may exhibit one, a few, or all of these signs of anxiety at various times.

  • Yawning
  • Increased nose licking
  • Drooling
  • Excessive, non-heat-related panting
  • Trembling, shivering, or shaking
  • Changes in a dog's body language, such as a tucked tail or flattened ears
  • Self-soothing, repetitive behaviors (like licking excessively or even biting body parts)
  • Compulsive behaviors like dogs that spin or dogs that twirl incessantly
  • Refusing food or sometimes even water in severe cases
  • Urinating or defecating indoors
  • Diarrhea or upset stomach
  • Howling, barking, or whining when you leave
  • Restlessness or pacing
  • Jumpiness, nervousness, or being easily startled
  • Destructive behaviors like chewing, digging, or scratching at doors
  • Stubbornness or refusal to obey commands
  • Depression, withdrawal, or reduced activity
  • Trying to get out of a collar or harness while on walks
  • Panicked attempts to escape the house or yard
  • Overprotective or self-protective behaviors like growling or excessive barking
  • Lashing out if he feels trapped

How Common is Dog Anxiety?

Many dogs exhibit signs of one form of anxiety or another at some time in their lives. According to a study of dogs in Finland, more than 70% of the dogs displayed some form of anxiety, as reported by their owners. The study looked at 13,715 pet dogs representing 264 different breeds. Noise sensitivity was a big issue with the dogs, with 32% exhibiting anxious behavior. Not surprisingly, most of their anxiety was triggered by fireworks.

The authors of the study also noted that 29% of the dogs suffered from general fearfulness. They reported: "Specifically, 17% of dogs showed fear of other dogs, 15% fear of strangers, and 11% fear of novel situations." Separation anxiety was most common among puppies and younger dogs in the study. Maybe most dogs grow out of this anxiety as they watch their family members leave and reliably return thousands of times over the years.


Keep reading for more information on how to deal with an anxious dog.

Is dog anxiety treatable?

Plenty of physical and mental exercise can tire your dog out and increase his enjoyment of life. And a happy, tired dog is less likely to be stressed. Spending quality time with your dog is also important. Training, playing, grooming, and just hanging out together can help your dog with his anxiety.

Blueberries and sweet potatoes can help calm people who eat them. There aren't any studies that show they have the same effect on dogs but at least they're a healthy snack your pup will love!

Dog-appeasing pheromones used in a diffuser, an impregnated collar, or sprayed on your dog's bed or pet blankets can help soothe him and reduce his anxiety. Over-the-counter anxiety supplements for dogs may help calm an anxious dog. If these techniques don't work, you should speak to your vet about prescription medications along with behavioral training.

Should you create a safe, comfortable space for your anxious dog?

A safe, comfortable space of his own can help calm an anxious dog. A sturdy crate with a comfy crate pad and cover acts as an inviting den for your anxious dog. Add a cozy dog blanket and he's all set to relax!

Does my anxious dog need a blanket?

Of course! What dog wouldn't want his own special dog blanket to snuggle into when he's feeling anxious or stressed? The extra warmth a blanket offers is sure to be appreciated by a dog that shivers when he's feeling stressed. A blanket can help prevent an anxious dog from tearing up the dog bed, too.

Follow these tips to help your anxious pet and the only time you'll see your dog spin or your dog twirl is when he's showing off tricks you've taught him!

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