Why is My Dog Anxious All of a Sudden?
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Our dogs display a wide range of emotions, many of which seem to make sense. When you grab the leash, they get excited. When you feed them a treat, they are evidently happy. When there is an aggressive situation, you might see them look scared. There are times we may have to ask ourselves why is my dog anxious all of a sudden? This is when their emotions are not easily explainable since they seem to come out of nowhere.
To understand why your dog has suddenly become anxious, AnimalWised takes a general look at anxiety in dogs. We look at the different causes, symptoms and available treatment options for anxiety in dogs to help them feel more secure and lessen the chances of a panic attack in the future.
Anxiety symptoms in dogs
Before we look at what causes of anxiety in dogs, we should look at a little background of what it is. Anxiety is a behavioral problem in canines which manifests itself for various reasons. When we see a dog looking very nervous, it is not uncommon for them to shake and shiver. Dogs generally don't have the inhibitions we humans have in terms of social situations, so they are more likely to show their anxiety quite visibly.
Some specific symptoms of anxiety in dogs include:
- Shaking and/or shivering
- Whining and/or whimpering
- Inability to be calmed
- Tail tucked
- Reduced activity
- Urinating indoors/inappropriately
The symptoms of anxiety in dogs vary, but so does their intensity. It will depend on their general well-being and the acuteness of the cause. Stress symptoms are related to anxiety, but these tend to alleviate when the stressful circumstance is no longer present. Generalized anxiety disorder in dogs refers to a chronic anxiety problem which can often occur without an evident cause. The Journal of Veterinary Behavior points out that ‘[f]ear is an emotion needed to survive, but when prolonged and frequent, causes suffering in both humans and animals’. This is why anxiety in dogs might be described as acute fearfulness.
As we discuss canine anxiety, you may ask yourself can dogs have panic attacks? We might only associate panic attacks with humans, but it is indeed possible for a dog to suffer them. The symptoms of a canine panic attack are similar to generalized anxiety, but more acute. They may urinate on themselves or bark all night our of fear. It is very important to help calm the dog down, but it is also important to remember that dogs which are scared may become aggressive. You will need to take precaution for your own safety.
Next we are going to look at some of the causes of anxiety in dogs. We will then follow them up with some ways they can be treated.
Noise anxiety in dogs
Loud noises can cause your dog to suddenly become very scared. Some dogs are more prone to noise more than others, leading to something known as noise phobia or dog noise anxiety. This means the dog will display symptoms of acute anxiety such trying to run away from the noise, digging behavior or pacing up and down the home when they hear loud sounds.
One of the most common noises to cause anxiety in dogs is fireworks. This may be why they seem to be anxious all of a sudden, especially if we don't hear the sounds ourselves. They can be particularly frightening because the dog may not recognize the sound nor know where they are coming from. Other loud noises which might scare dogs include:
- Loud music
- Loudly moving furniture
- Vacuum cleaners
- Food processors
- Loud car noises
If you are outside when these noises occur, it is possible your dog will try to run away. This is why it is so important to keep your dog on a leash in built up areas, at least until you know they are not spooked easily. You may try to caress your dog to calm them in this situation, but it is important to know that this might end up reinforcing anxious behavior.
You cannot always anticipate loud noises, but if you know there is a festival or some other reason for them to occur, you should take precautions. Keep windows closed and try to create a safe and comfortable space. Only reward your dog when they are exhibiting calmness and not when they are aggravated. Otherwise, it might cause them to think they have fair reason to be worried.
Learn more about what to do when your dog is afraid of fireworks.
Separation anxiety in dogs
Separation anxiety is something which is fortunately becoming better known amongst dog guardians. Symptoms manifest when the dog is left alone from their guardian, often in the form of noisy barking or whining. Since many people leave their dog at home while at work, destruction of property is also a common behavioral problem. Dogs may even urinate or defecate inside the home as a sign of being anxious.
Separation anxiety might happen suddenly if you make a sudden change in your routine. If your dog has experienced lots of time together, anxiety will grow when you stop. Separation anxiety might develop over a longer time period and might be exacerbated by other factors. You may not be able to see the behavioral problems when you are away, but you should be able to tell by the dog's reaction when you return, such as being over excited.
We can try to improve this behavior by establishing a better schedule so they won't be left alone for long periods of time. If we have work or personal commitments which prevent this from happening, then we should find a way to ensure their needs are met. Most people will not be able to afford to pay someone to do it, but many might be able to have a friend or relative drop by.
It is important to know that dogs can also have an unhealthy attachment to their owner. This might be something which has been developed since puppyhood. If so, you might need to engage the services of someone who is able to address these behavioral problems. A dog trainer or canine ethologist will be able to help you establish a more healthy routine. It might also require revision of some basic training or differing your approaches to certain issues.
Having enough environmental enrichment at home, keeping the dog stimulated through intelligence games and toys, or even having another pet might help alleviate the symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs. We have more information about separation anxiety if you feel like this might be what is making your dog anxious.
Anxiety in puppies
Adopting a puppy into our home is a big change for us, but it is even bigger for the pup. During their first days, we might notice some clingy behavior. Perhaps they will cry out if they have to be on their own or insist on sleeping next to us. This is a period of adjustment, so it is normal for the puppy to take some time to get accustomed to a new home away from the family they once knew. They might cry, scratch at furniture or bark a lot.
Previously, many animal behaviorists recommended ignoring these calls and simply offering them a bed, perhaps with a ticking clock to simulate their mother's heartbeat. Recently, experts have been questioning these practices. Some believe we should offer more in terms of comfort and reassurance. It is best to have a mixture of reassurance, but not to coddle them to the point they rely too heavily on us. Our article on the importance of socialization in dogs will help you to know how to best care for puppies in this formative stage.
This socialization periods highlights the importance of not taking puppies away form their mother for long periods. Puppies need to be with their mother and siblings for a minimum of 8 weeks, otherwise it might result in behavioral problems in later life, especially in how they interact with others.
Anxiety in elderly dogs
When they enter into their old age, we may see changes in the behavior of older dogs which signal the presence of cognitive dysfunction syndrome. This is the canine equivalent of Alzheimer's disease in humans. The dog will become uneasy, nervous, disorientated and cry or bark for seemingly no reason. They may even engage in destructive behaviors or suddenly develop separation anxiety.
These cases should always be assessed by a veterinarian both to look for accompanying health problems and to advise on management methods. Drugs might be administered to keep them calm and improve their overall quality of life. The most important thing is to be there for them and to influence their behavior in a positive way. The right exercise, intelligence games and mental stimulation are all very important in helping to slow the degenerative neurological symptoms in dogs.
As this type of anxiety is caused by a degenerative disease, their anxiety won't happen all of a sudden. However, the symptoms might seem to appear out of the blue. This is one of the reason why it is so important to take older dogs more regularly to the vet.
Lack of exercise causing anxiety
A study from 2015 in the journal PloS one looked into the different cause of anxiety in dogs, specifically pointing to how early life experiences affect a dog's well-being. They found that fearful dogs had socialization experiences and a lower quality of maternal care when they were puppies.
However, the same researchers were surprised to find out that a lack of exercise was a more common factor in their research group. They found that dogs with noise sensitivity and separation anxiety had less daily exercise. This goes to show just how important regular walks and sufficient exercise are for a dog's well-being.
Treatment of anxiety in dogs
Apart from the above methods of treatment mentioned in each specific cause, there are some other ways dogs might be treated for anxiety. One is the use of medication for canine anxiety. The drugs used are usually sedatives such as Trazodone or Tramadol. These are sedatives which are used for anxiety relief.
These drugs are a temporary relief and should only be used in cases of extreme anxiety in dogs. Even then they should be used in conjunction with behavioral changes which will offer better long-term solutions. Another study from The Journal of Veterinary Behavior, this time from 2014, that ‘moderate-to-deep pressure on soft tissue [has shown] positive results in reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation’. This can be attained by using a pressure wrap on the dog during times of anxiety. However, it is something which should be used in tandem with other treatment options.
If you want to read similar articles to Why is My Dog Anxious All of a Sudden?, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.
1. Tiira, K., Sulkama, S., & Lohi, H. (2016). Prevalence, comorbidity, and behavioral variation in canine anxiety. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 16, 36-44.
2. Tiira, K., & Lohi, H. (2015). Early Life Experiences and Exercise Associate with Canine Anxieties. PloS one, 10(11), e0141907.
3. King, C., Buffington, L., Smith, T. J., & Grandin, T. (2014). The effect of a pressure wrap (ThunderShirt®) on heart rate and behavior in canines diagnosed with anxiety disorder. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 9(5), 215-221.