Integrative Pet Vet column: Your dog can experience anxiety, too
Integrative Pet Vet
Anxiety is the most frequent behavior problem seen in dogs. It is estimated that some form of anxiety affects 30 percent of dogs. The common anxieties include separation anxiety, noise sensitivity and general fearfulness. Affected dogs may show their anxiety by hiding, through self-trauma, escape attempts, restlessness, destructiveness, inappropriate defecation or urination, excessive barking or even aggression.
Dogs of all breeds and ages can experience anxiety; however, small breed dogs such as the chihuahua, dachshund, maltese and toy poodle have been shown to be more likely to have anxiety behaviors. Large breeds like the golden retriever, Labrador retriever and rottweiler and brachycephalic (shortened head) breeds like the Boston terriers, bulldogs and pugs are least likely. Interestingly, in some breeds like the Siberian husky, German shorthaired pointer, border collie and greyhound, a profound fear reaction of unknown cause has been noted that is thought to, at least in part, have a genetic influence.
It is important to recognize that not every small breed dog will have an anxiety problem and that anxiety can occur in dogs of any breed, including the large breeds. Many fears and anxieties are thought to develop at 12-36 months of age when dogs are becoming socially mature. However, dogs with profound fear from unknown causes can develop at 8-10 months of age. While there may be a genetic component to the anxiety, there are prenatal and neonatal stresses such as maternal separation and lack of socialization that contribute to developing anxiety. In elderly dogs, development of separation anxiety may be related to cognitive dysfunction including declines in memory and thinking. Development of anxiety and fear may be the result of stressful experiences such as being exposed to loud noises at critical times during the process of maturing.
Other triggers include a painful experience, changes in work schedules, relocating to a new residence, or being surrendered to a shelter.
Once anxiety behaviors are recognized, a thorough evaluation should be performed to rule out medical problems that can lead to or contribute to those behaviors. For example, an elderly dog that is restless, withdrawn and exhibiting aggression may be responding to joint pain associated with osteoarthritis. After the pain is controlled the dog’s behavior may become normal. When medical causes have been ruled out, working with a qualified trainer or behaviorist is important so that controlled desensitization and other behavior modification can be initiated. During this process, changes in the household routine may be needed along with supplements, herbs and/or medications. Use of products that reduce anxiety play an important role because reducing the over-response to the stimulating event aids in the process of desensitization.
Anxious dogs often have exhausted adrenal glands because they are in a continuous state of stress. Providing nutritional supplements and herbal support for the adrenal glands can be an important component of the support plan. Supplements that contain milk casein have been shown to reduce anxiety. The amino acid L-theanine has an effect on brain serotonin and dopamine levels that contribute to increased calming. Herbs like valerian root are thought to act in a similar way as the drugs Valium and Xanax. Essential oils like lavender have been shown to reduce anxiety in dogs while riding in a vehicle. Products that diffuse pheromones may be beneficial in some situations. Pheromones are chemical signals released by the mother dog to calm the puppies.
Anti-anxiety medications may be necessary to fully control the anxiety. The goal with the use of the medications is to use them short term while working on desensitization and retraining. When the desensitization has been completed, the medication can be withdrawn.
Treatment should be individualized for each dog and may require multiple or combination approaches.
If you are concerned with anxiety in your dog, contact your veterinarian.
Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.