While humans are prone to suffering to panic attacks and anxiety, especially in today’s busy times, we rarely consider the fact that other mammals can also suffer bouts of severe anxiety. An anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, a phobia, or a problem with mental health—your pet could suffer as we do and all can your dog’s behavior. Worse still, as animals don’t have a voice, they simply can’t tell us if they feel panicked, but rather they demonstrate strange behaviors to let us know that something is awry. When it comes to our beloved dogs, an anxiety attack can be an incredibly scary experience that is equally as unbearable to us as doggy parents, as it is for them.
Why Do Dogs Experience Anxiety?
Any of you who have felt a deep connection with a canine companion will agree that when you look into a dog’s eyes, you can feel exactly what they are thinking or if they aren’t feeling well. It’s like an unofficial telepathic bond that seems to exist between man and beast. Therefore, if our precious pooches clearly have a whole range of similar feelings and emotions to their beloved owners, they too can have panic attacks when they feel overwhelmed with fear or sadness. The exact cause of anxiety in dogs has not been pinpointed 100%, but behaviorists concur that it is often related to being left alone or triggered by some kind of trauma. Dogs do not have the same ability to rationalize as us human folk do, so while we might appreciate an exciting live music event accompanied by spectacularly colorful fireworks, your dog simply hears a series of unknown super loud noises that trigger his flight response. Panic attacks and anxiety in dogs can lead to sleepless nights and worry, so here are some symptoms to look out for and some tips on how to calm your dog’s nerves.
Compulsive Licking or Eating
Imagine coming home to find your floor sparkling clean and wet and turning around to see Fido frantically marching up and down your living room licking every inch of floor in a spookily methodical manner. At first, you might be delighted and think that your dog has finally learned how to contribute to boring household chores after watching you do them day in day out, and you might even get excited about the fact that soon he could progress on to doing your laundry. Many pet owners who have experienced this bizarre occurrence on more than one occasion will often laugh about it with their friends over a drink, but the reality is far from amusing. When a dog is experiencing an oncoming panic attack, he will often obsessively lick the floor or eat anything in sight. It is somewhat of a coping mechanism among canines when they experience fear or worry to extreme degrees and it is thought that the swallowing action helps soothe their nerves. While this behavior might seem relatively harmless, it can actually lead to disaster—as, very often, when a dog’s anxiety takes over, he won’t pick and choose what to lick or frantically eat, he will just go into autopilot and devour everything in sight. Including sharp objects, fabric, and even toiletries! If you notice your dog demonstrating this behavior, then it could be a red flag indicating a panic attack.
If your otherwise confident and bouncy dog suddenly starts burrowing his head under furniture, or even in a hole he has dug in the garden, then it could be an indication of an anxiety attack. And while your 100-pound bulldog might look cute wedged underneath your favorite armchair, it is a clear sign that he is both fearful and anxious.
Overly Affectionate Behavior
Many of us baby our dogs to the extent that they become extremely dependent and needy. Going to the bathroom alone is a thing of the past and many dogs will often want to be on top of us at all times, regardless of how big they are. Everyone loves to be cuddled by their dog and affectionate behavior is completely normal, until it gets to the point where it has become obsessive and continuous. If your dog won’t leave your side and starts howling if they can’t follow you everywhere you go, this indicates severe separation anxiety and should be dealt with as quickly as possible.
Squealing or Singing
We have all seen the cute videos on YouTube where a dog seems to be singing along to a song and it is certainly true that you can train your dog to bark, sing or howl on command. But when your pooch starts howling out the window or emitting high-pitched squeals randomly, it is a common sign of panic. Almost like they are trying to vocalize their concerns to us! Certain breeds will be more vocal than others, but an excessively noisy dog that is constantly “talking” is not normal and is demonstrating their distress.
Fixating on an Empty Spot
There is an old wives’ tale that dogs have paranormal abilities and are able to see ghosts. This is usually used to justify odd household behavior like barking at nothing and staring at the wall, usually while howling or whining. Before you go rushing out to find an exorcist, however, rest assured that your house is not haunted and your dog is probably just experiencing an anxiety attack!
What to Do if Your Dog Is Prone to Panic Attacks
As soon as you start noticing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, then it’s time to put a plan in place to reduce any triggers. Once you have determined what could be triggering your dog’s anxiety, create a safe space and calm environment for him. Some people like to kit out a crate with comfortable blankets and toys so their pooch can take refuge when he is feeling nervous and others find that supplements like CBD oil or CBD-infused dog treats work wonders for reducing separation anxiety or soothing nerves during fireworks. What everyone agrees on, however, is that dogs need a routine that includes a healthy diet, plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.
Jennifer is the voice behind the FOMO Bones blog. She's pretty sure in her past life, she was a Great Dane. However, we peg her as more of a labrador. Regardless of her breed, she's a dog enthusiast who has 15 years experience training dogs and owners.