Fireworks, separation, car trips, other dogs, cats, pets and more. What do these all have in common? Anxiety. Dogs can be prone to anxiety in a variety of situation ranging from the mundane to the truly terrifying.
Anxiety is one of the leading causes of returning a dog to a shelter, and up to 29% of all dogs in homes will experience some form of anxiety . While traditional medicine and behavior training are catching up to help prevent and treat anxiety, new research into food and diet changes has found some amazing ways to naturally decrease anxiety with ease.
Here’s a little more about anxiety, how it works in dogs, the ways it is treated, and the latest in natural supplements to boost your dog’s mental health!
Anxiety is “the anticipation of future dangers from unknown or imagined origins that result in normal body (physiologic) reactions associated with fear.” 
Anyone and anything can experience anxiety, and it is often a reaction to a perceived fear rather than actual danger. Think of those times when you’ve been nervous about a trip, a job interview or a friend from out of town visiting. While you KNEW these activities wouldn’t be dangerous, you still felt fearful of the unknown the situation brought along.
Pets and people share quite a few symptoms of anxiety including nervous behaviors, ticks, avoidance techniques and more. Dogs will also show anxiety symptoms such as displacement behaviors, which are behaviors that are normal in other situations, but a sign of anxiety when they occur outside of that situation .
Doggone Safe lists the following behaviors as potential displacement behaviors, or a sign of anxiety:
On the other hand, a calm, non-anxious dog, according to Vetstreet, will exhibit more relaxed behaviors such as :
Knowing the difference between what is normal and calm for your dog, and what may be a sign of anxiety is key to figuring out the cause of your pet’s anxiety and when to treat it. Catching it early, or removing your dog from the situation if possible may be great first steps.
Not all anxiety-inducing situations can be easily remedied with just taking your dog out of the situation, and there may be times where your dog needs to be able to remain calm such as when you leave for work or visit the vet.
Four treatment modalities have become popular in recent years to help decrease, reduce and even prevent stress. These include medications used with or without behavioral training, natural calming aids and behavioral anxiety prevention training.
Prescription medications are one of the most-used treatment plans for anxious dogs. This includes sedatives and tranquilizers such as Lorazepam and Acepromazine, and anti-anxiety/anti-depression drugs such as Fluoxetine, Amitriptyline, and Hydroxyzine.
While these prescriptions can be used alone for situations such as firework or thunder phobias, they are more commonly being used in conjunction with a training regimen, often to reduce the amount of medication needed.
These medications may also have side effects such as sedation, nausea or digestive upset and so many vets recommend adding in a training regimen to help reduce the dosage needed and side effects seen during treatment.
Most veterinarians will now refer anxious pets to a veterinary or training behaviorist for further care in addition to medication if one is available.
Training is a form of therapy for anxious dogs and can be used in a number of ways. This includes training techniques such as desensitization, distraction, calming behaviors and more.
A trainer or behaviorist will often work with owners and their dog in the home to find the triggers of anxiety such as certain people or pets, stressful situations such as going to the vet, or anxiety-inducing behaviors such as leaving the home (separation anxiety).
Training is then tailored to each dog’s individual needs rather than using a blanket training technique for everything. Training often has the added benefit of teaching your dog that anxious situations can be defused and that calm behavior can exist again.
Certified veterinary behaviorists can also prescribe anti-anxiety medications to increase training compliance and shorten the amount of training needed.
Natural over the counter therapies are becoming one of the largest market shares of the pet industry. Pet products abound in stores that can help treat a varying amount of problems- anxiety included. These treats, sprays, supplements and more use natural ingredients such as calming pheromones, lavender, tryptophan, and L-Theanine to help ease anxiety .
More and more studies of these supplements are becoming available as their popularity grows and are showing positive results for pets. These natural supplements can be used on their own for minor anxiety situations, or may be used in combination with medications and training therapy.
If you do decide to use a natural remedy for your dog, be sure to let your vet know so that it does not interact with any medications or health problems your dog may have.
Prevention is most important in the early stages of your dog’s life, but can be used as a lifelong technique to prevent and stop anxiety. Proper socialization of puppies through trips to various locations, leaving them home for short periods of time, and puppy kindergarten classes can prepare your dog for the various things he or she may encounter in life.
A well-socialized dog is less likely to become anxious in a situation and more likely to approach new situations more eagerly.
Prevention can also be used in already anxious pets to avoid a potentially anxiety-inducing situation such as leaving an area where a strange dog or animal may cause anxiety, using a “thundershirt” prior to a storm, or preparing your dog for your departure with toys or activities that can distract him.
Stopping your dog from becoming anxious is often easier than stopping the anxious behavior once it has started.
One major breakthrough in recent years for both people and dogs is the use of a supplement humans have taken for years, fish oils. A new study by Dr. Ragen McGowan at the latest Purina Research Summit found that omega-3 fatty acids may be the key to reducing anxiety in dogs.
Omega-3 fatty acids, most commonly found in fish oils, contains Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, an ingredient that can help the body in a variety of ways including boosting skin and coat health, improving cardiovascular health, and reducing pain and inflammation associated with arthritis and disease.
If you’d like to read a more in-depth review of omega-3s and fish oils, check out our other articles here:
Dr. McGowan’s study found that in addition to the ways omega-3s can help your dog listed above, they can also help decrease anxiety. Out of 24 Labrador Retrievers studied, 21 of those (or 87%) showed reduced cortisol levels and lowered heart rate in situations designed to induce anxiety . The fatty acids found in omega-3 fish oils were also found to act on the same pathways that many anxiety drugs use, such as fluoxetine .
This natural alternative could mean a breakthrough in both behavior training and reduction in side effects caused by common medications. Natural fatty acids have little to no side effects, and can be added to your dog’s food easily through supplementation without hassle or fighting to give a pill.
They can be used safely alongside most other medications and may be an option for anxious pets with existing medical conditions. In addition to reducing anxiety, your dog may see other benefits such as a better skin and coat, and less pain and inflammation.
Omega-3 fish oils may not be the cure-all for anxiety, but used in conjunction with traditional anxiety treatments, your dog can have that extra boost he or she needs to overcome an anxious situation.
Fish oils are a great low-risk supplement that can help in so many ways it’s worth it to try them out and see if they improve your dog’s overall mental and physical health. As with any supplement, be sure to let your vet know prior to giving them if your dog is currently on any other medications.
All photos courtesy of Creative Commons/Pixabay https://search.creativecommons.org
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 “Doggone Safe-Signs of Anxiety.” Doggone Safe. Web 11 July 2016. http://www.doggonesafe.com/signs_of_anxiety
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 Lewellen, Heather, DVM. “Boosting Tranquility through Nutrition.” DVM360.com 26 Apr. 2016. Web 11 July 2016. http://veterinarymedicine.dvm360.com/boosting-tranquility-through-nutrition