Posted on December 11, 2015: When a human being is anxious, besides it showing in his/ her body language, he/ she will be able to verbalise, “I’m feeling nervous.” A pet will not be able to tell you the same. Nevertheless, you can still find out that your dog is undergoing anxiety on the basis of some tell-tale signs. Also, just like human beings, there are underlying psychological factors as to why a dog may have an anxiety disorder.
Certain dog breeds like German Shorthaired Pointer, Siberian Husky, Bernese Mountain Dog, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Border Collie, Great Pyrenees and Standard Poodle have a genetic disposition towards anxiety. Just like humans, an abusive childhood may lead to a dog to develop an anxious disposition. Puppy mill dogs who were locked in crates as babies have a great propensity to go on to become fearful creatures. Dogs who are debarred of environmental and social exposure up to 14 weeks of age may become perpetually fearful later. Growing old brings forth neurological changes in the dog which may make an aged dog fearful. Certain infections like viral illnesses which attack the central nervous system and conditions like lead poisoning may also be contributing factors.
Separation anxiety may have higher incidences in dogs who have suffered abandonment, prolonged neglect and have gone through multiple owners. Noise irks all dogs, some of them may become quite anxious in noisy environments. Some dogs have travel anxiety, as they consider an enclosed car as a den, which they develop an aversion to and thereby feel fearful if it’s a long drive. An alteration in the daily routine may make some dogs a bundle of nerves. Pet parents fighting and screaming, make most dogs edgy.
Giving the dog a warm and loving childhood, may help him/ her to be sturdy of mind. If he/ she has, however, been rescued from a shelter home or was confined in a cage at a puppy mill, it’s highly likely that he/ she has had a traumatic childhood. You can’t undo his/ her past, but you can try to make up for the sorrow he/ she has undergone by showering him with love and creating a safe and secure environment for him/ her. Endeavour to keep dogs away from loud noise and poisonous substances which may give rise to anxiety. Arrange for a calm and quiet home for the dog. Try to keep a fixed schedule in his/ her life.
An anxious dog may be seen as pacing, following the handler markedly, tremendously salivating, abnormally trembling, throwing up, destroying property by chewing on them, howling, barking, whining, panting, peeing and pooing all over the house (sometimes even eating own faeces), resorting to deliberate self-harm, hiding, being aggressive, exhibiting hyperactive behaviour, yawning despite not being tired, scratching though not itchy, keeping his/ her tail between legs, having a limp tail which hardly wags, drooping ears etc.
Allopathic anti-anxiety drugs and anti-depressants may suppress the symptoms of anxiety. Veterinarians may prescribe drugs like benzodiazepines and tricyclic anti-depressants for jittery dogs. These, however, come with a wide array of side-effects and must be used cautiously. They may make the dog drowsy, confused, disoriented, slow on reflexes and forgetful. They may also cause nausea, double vision and changes in appetite. Homeopathic anti-anxiety medicines are available as well and they are believed not to have side-effects. Puppies may be benefited by Dog Appeasing Hormone (DAP). It’s a chemical manufactured on the lines of a hormone excreted by nursing female dogs. This hormone makes puppies feel warm, secure and help to develop a bond with their mum. DAP is said to produce a calming effect in puppies but not in adult dogs.
Dogs cannot be administered psychotherapy like humans, but non-medicinal treatments for anxiety are available. Comforting hugs, talking reassuringly and a relaxing massage may soothe frayed nerves.
As in humans, music can also have a calming effect on dogs. Classical music has been found to soothe their frayed nerves.
Desensitisation is a technique by which dogs may be acclimatised to the trigger of their phobia. For instance, if your dog is fearful of a certain kind of noise, you may expose him to lower decibels of the same noise, during the course of which he may completely overcome the fear of that particular noise.
Quite contrary to desensitisation is the technique of distraction, wherein you divert the pet’s attention from the source of fear. For instance, when there are loud crackers bursting, you may play with your dog or pet him, so that his mind is taken off the discordant din.
Aromatherapy is said to soothe dogs. Exposing him/ her to the scents and essential oil massages of Peppermint, Lavender, German Chamomile, Niaouli, Helichrysum etc. have a sweet comforting effect on dogs. However, you must consult a vet before administering your pet aromatherapy.