Stress refers to feelings of pressure or strain – something that most people are familiar with. For humans, it can be because of a job, meeting people for the first time, or having their daily routines disrupted.
Dogs can feel anxious and stressed, too, albeit for different reasons.
If you’re a first-time dog owner, you will eventually discover the specific things and scenarios that cause your pet to feel uneasy. Here, you will learn the most common causes of dog anxiety and how you can help them through it.
Why Do Dogs Get Anxious?
Dogs are friendly and loving creatures, but even the calmest pups can become stressed or uneasy under specific circumstances. Animals that are normally mellow can become anxious when exposed to certain stimuli.
Anxiety, stress, uneasiness – dogs experience discomfort when they feel something is off. As a pet parent, you should watch out for the following signs that indicate this:
- Spontaneous urination or bowel movement
- Destructive behaviour
- Whining or whimpering
- Passive escape
- Excessive licking
- Interaction avoidance
- Dilated pupils
- Displacement behaviours, such as lip licking, air sniffing, yawning, “shaking it off” like a wet dog
In contrast, a relaxed and calm dog will have a soft mouth, forward-facing or semi-erect ears, and rounded eyes. They also tend to distribute their weight evenly on their paws.
Knowing what’s normal and what could be signs of stress could help you diffuse any uncomfortable situation effectively.
Besides this, it is also vital that pet owners know why their furry babies become uneasy. There are countless potential causes, but the following are the most common:
1. Chronic Pain
Experiencing chronic pain feels uncomfortable and can cause uneasiness in your dog, especially if aggravated by contact. Arthritis, degenerative disc disease, and dental issues are just a few conditions that can cause this.
Pro Tip: When shopping dog treats online, always consider your dog’s capacity to chew as some elderly dogs or very young puppies may have different needs. If you’re uncertain, ask a vet about it.
Some types of noises can trigger canine anxiety, particularly sounds that come from vacuum cleaners, fireworks, and thunder. These are also the usual culprits that lead to phobias and PTSD in dogs.
3. Environmental Changes
While dogs are adaptive creatures, they can still feel uneasy with certain environmental changes.
For example, your pup can become anxious during a storm because of barometric air changes and static electricity or the sound of thunder. In these cases, anti-static treatments or storm jackets may prove helpful.
Depending on how long your dog is separated from something or someone (i.e., you) he is attached to, he may exhibit unusual vocalisation such as barking and whining. He may even develop certain destructive behaviours.
These changes often occur because the creature is frantic that the person he’s most bonded to isn’t anywhere in sight. It may also happen when a dog is left alone, which is commonly known as isolation anxiety.
Very few dogs alone time since they are social creatures by nature. Some common reason why they feel stressed from the lack of companionship is loneliness and boredom. It can also be linked to a past negative experience while they were left on their own.
This can also be because of a decline in memory or cognitive function in elderly dogs, also known as old-age-onset separation anxiety.
Like humans, dogs get motion sickness while travelling, too. However, this isn’t the only reason why trips can make them feel uneasy.
Most of the time, dogs are anxious when they go out because they fear the unknown. And like separation, it could also be because of a previous experience that left a scar on their psyche.
Travel anxiety is relatively common in pups who don’t usually go on trips. Sometimes, it can be triggered in canines that only travel to places they consider unpleasant, like the vet’s clinic or a grooming facility.
5 Ways to Relieve Dog Anxiety
Some causes of dog stress have specific remedies, as mentioned above. Besides those, you can also try these five ways to help your pup overcome anxiety:
1. Consult the vet
A veterinarian’s expert knowledge is vital in easing pet stress.
After learning the signs and causes of dog anxiety, you can now determine your pup’s current mental state. When you do, be sure to jot down what you observe.
A visit to the vet helps rule out possible underlying conditions that may cause uneasiness in an animal. Relay the signs you’ve taken note of and the circumstances when you observed them.
Medical problems could cause certain changes in your pet’s behaviour. To clear things up, the vet will perform tests to determine whether this is the case. They can also offer their expertise in determining the cause of your pet’s anxiety.
2. Remove triggers
Once medical issues have been removed from the equation and you have identified the potential causes of stress in your pet, relieving his anxiety might be as simple as removing those triggers.
For instance, if he becomes uneasy whenever other dogs or people are around, you can simply bring him to the park when there are no crowds. You can also have him play in a fenced yard instead or play games indoors.
3. Don’t make coming and going a big deal
You can ease separation anxiety through simple changes, including not making too much fuss whenever you come and go. Take your pet for a walk before you leave and offer a treat or a stuffed toy to keep him busy. Remember to avoid making both your departure and arrival a big deal.
4. Create a safe space for your pet
In some cases, praise, reward, or calming words are just not enough to relieve dog anxiety. If your pet is like this, you can create a safe space for him to seek solace in.
This should be a place with little to no stimulation, so your dog can unwind and be calm. This sanctuary could also have ambient sounds to promote relaxation. And don’t forget to have dog food delivered regularly to top off his doggie bowl in his safe space.
5. Exercise with your pup
Exercise can disperse anxious energy in your pet.
In fact, research shows that exercises are linked to lower fear, separation anxiety, and aggression levels in dogs. Plus, doing physical activities together helps you build stronger bonds and mutual support with your pup.
Keep Your Pet Calm and Happy
Happy pets are healthy pets, so you must ensure that your furry baby has everything he needs.
For his mental wellbeing, provide enough quality time with him and help him deal with his stress by applying the anxiety-relief tips listed here.
Farah Al-Khojai is the Managing Partner of Pet’s Delight. A passionate entrepreneur, Farah holds a Bsc in Government from the London School of Economics. She is always on the lookout for new opportunities to develop and grow the pet and equestrian retail and wholesale market in the UAE and beyond, and is proud to be at the helm of the first and the largest pet care provider in the market representing world-class brands including Orijen, Applaws, Hunter, Savic, Flamingo, Ruffwear and Rogz.