Understanding, Preventing, and Treating Your Dog’s Anxiety Naturally
Just like us, dogs experience anxiety. While unpleasant, it is a normal and healthy emotion. Dog anxiety can affect all breeds but may affect each individual dog differently. Although it is something that all dogs experience from time-to-time, if disproportionate levels of anxiety are left unchecked, a dog can develop an anxiety disorder. If left untreated, dog anxiety can lead to behavioural and other issues.
How do you know if your dog has anxiety? What can you do to treat your dog’s anxiety?
Dog Anxiety: Causes
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, dog anxiety can have a variety of causes. Some of the most common causes of dog anxiety are:
Fear-related anxiety can be caused by loud noises, strange people or animals, visual stimuli like hats or umbrellas, new or strange environments, specific situations — like the vet’s office or car rides — or surfaces like grass or wood floors. Although some dogs may only have brief reactions to these kinds of stimuli, they may affect anxious dogs more consequentially.
Separation anxiety is estimated to affect around 14 percent of dogs. Dogs with separation anxiety are unable to find comfort when they are left alone or separated from their family members. This anxiety often manifests itself in undesirable behaviours, such as urinating and defecating in the house, destroying furniture and furnishings, and barking.
Age-related anxiety affects older dogs and can be associated with cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). In dogs with CDS, memory, learning, perception, and awareness start to decline, similar to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in humans. This understandably leads to confusion and anxiety in senior dogs.
Dog Anxiety: Symptoms
So how can you tell if your dog has anxiety? There are several important symptoms to look out for:
- Urinating or defecating in the house
- Destructive behaviour
- Excessive barking
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviours
Dog Anxiety: Treatment and Prevention
It is always recommended taking your dog to the vet first so they can diagnose the root cause of the stress and rule out a more serious medical or behavioural issue.
Once your vet has confirmed that it’s not a health issue, these natural stress remedies for pets could be precisely what your pet needs to return to his normal, happy self.
Sometimes, your stress becomes your pet’s stress. If a crazy work schedule means you aren’t taking your dog for the regular walks he’s become accustomed to, he’ll feel anxiety.
The change in routine, the loneliness, and the feeling of being cooped up are all possible contributors to stress that can be eliminated by simply taking your pup outside to stretch his legs and get some fresh air.
A tired dog is a happy dog, and sometimes, the best home remedy for dog anxiety is getting them out of the house and letting them exercise.
This stress-relief technique works on several levels. For instance, teaching your dog a new trick diverts his attention away from whatever is causing the stress in the first place.
You’re also engaging with him one-on-one—something many stressed dogs crave from their owners after long days alone at home. “A lot of dogs develop stress behaviours out of boredom,” our canine behaviourist says. “But that can be avoided by simply having some fun together.”
We often think that tiredness only comes from physical exertion, but mental exertion can have the same calming effects. It doesn’t matter what new trick you teach your dog—anything that challenges him can provide stress relief.
A 2017 study by the Scottish SPCA and the University of Glasgow showed that the right music could be effective in decreasing signs of anxiety in dogs.
The researchers observed groups of dogs with various types of music playing. After a week, they played a different genre of music. They found that soft rock and reggae music were the most effective, but individual dogs had distinct preferences.
Playing your pet’s favourite music at a low volume can add another layer of calm to your pet’s environment. But first make sure that your dog does indeed appreciate it by watching your dog’s body language.
Massage and Acupuncture
Anything that makes the body work better will make the brain work better. Some locations on a dog’s body—like the feet, the ears and the top of the head—are natural pressure points where as little as 15 minutes of massaging your pet will make a world of difference for their stress level.
Similarly, licensed veterinary acupuncturists can treat pet stress, sometimes as well or better than medication. The treatment stimulates the release of the body’s pain-relieving substances without any potentially adverse side effects.
If your dog has been diagnosed with anxiety issues, you can also try to avoid or prevent situations that trigger your dog’s anxiety. For example, if you know that your dog grows anxious around large groups of dogs, you should avoid dog parks. Avoidance does not mean that you need to put your life on hold, but it can reduce some of the stress on you and your dog.
Regular exercise and stimulation are crucial for a dog’s development, physical, and mental well-being. A stimulated dog is less likely to pick up destructive behaviours, and good nutrition is equally important for your dog’s health. Making sure you take care of your dog’s physical and mental needs can help you prevent any behaviour problems that don’t stem from anxiety, letting you know the areas where your dog needs the most help.
Nutrition – Calming Anxiety
Nutrition plays a vital role in your dog’s health and wellbeing.
Human research shows that when comparing a vegetarian diet versus omnivorous diet, vegetarians reported more positive moods than meat eaters, according to a study published in Nutrition Journal. (1)
The reason? The brain uses the amino acid tryptophan to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter largely responsible for feelings of happiness and well-being. Plant-based sources of tryptophan include leafy greens, sunflower seeds, watercress, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, mushrooms, broccoli, peas and other legumes.
A diet high in protein and animal foods can limit serotonin production. A healthy approach for ideal levels of tryptophan in the brain is to focus on plant proteins along with generous amounts of complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. With this pattern in place, there is sufficient serotonin produced to maintain feelings of calm and well-being.
Bonza plant-based food contains a number of tryptophan containing ingredients, as well as a blend of super herbs, botanicals and adaptogens, specifically added to help minimise your dog’s anxiety and stress.
In the relatively new field of nutritional psychiatry, inflammation is considered one of the most important factors contributing to a host of anxiety related disorders. Focus is now being placed on nutritional interventions to limit and modify anxiety.
As in many other chronic health states it has been shown that inflammation plays a significant role in anxiety (2). An anti-inflammatory diet can help to support a reduction in physiological causes of your dog’s anxiety helping to restore calm to their lives.
Our ‘Calming’ blend includes turmeric, ginger, chamomile, ashwagandha and reishi mushroom – these herbs work synergistically and help to relieve your dog’s stress and anxiety levels.
A research piece, ‘Efficacy and safety of standardized Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root extract on reducing stress and anxiety in domestic dogs: A randomized controlled trial‘ published in 2022 found ‘the intake of Ashwagandha root extract for 4 weeks was associated with significant reductions in UCCr (urine cortisol to creatine ratio), and signs of fear and anxiety and pain interference.
These super herbs together with the Omega 3’s (including EPA and DHA), tryptophan rich plant-based ingredients – oats, peas, chickpeas and seaweed, and the best of complex carbohydrates including wholegrains – oats and quinoa, legumes – peas, fava beans, and chickpeas, vegetables – sweet potato, carrots and potato in Bonza gives you the best chance of reducing your dog’s anxiety and improving their overall mood and sense of wellbeing.