If you share your life with an anxious dog, you see the effects it has not only on your dog, but on everyone else in the household. You must also wonder how long your dog can cope with all that stress.
We can never predict how long any dog will live, let alone one with anxiety. What we do know from a study published about the effects of anxiety on lifespan, is that a fear of strangers was found to shorten a dog’s life.
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What Can Cause Anxiety in Dogs?
- Separation from their owners
- Sudden/loud noises
- Floor surfaces
- Traveling/being in a new place
- The vet
- Illness such as dementia or suffering from a painful condition
- Being forced into a new or scary situation
- A history of not being able to escape from whatever caused the panic – for example: being locked in a cage or crate (this could be in a puppy mill, or even in their own home without being crate trained)
These are just a few things dogs can fear, but the reality is they could be afraid of pretty much anything.
Signs Your Dog is Stressed or Anxious
Signs vary depending on the severity.
- Increased shedding
- Tail tucked between his legs
- Hide/try and run away
- Excessive barking
- Peeing and pooping in inappropriate places
- Licking/biting their body
Why Do So Many Dogs Experience Anxiety?
Abuse or mistreatment in a dog’s past can cause severe anxiety, as can a lack of socialization when they were puppies. When we talk about socialization, we mean helping a dog get used to living in our world. That involves introducing them to a wide variety of people, places and things. Let’s not forget health challenges in senior dogs such as dementia, vision and/or hearing loss.
Does Anxiety Worsen as Dogs Get Older?
If left untreated, it can absolutely worsen over time. It’s also quite common to find senior dogs become more anxious as they age, this is often due to vision and/or hearing issues, dementia or even discomfort from a health issue.
According to this study, ”The prevalence of noise sensitivity increased with age, especially fear of thunder. Similarly, fear of surfaces and heights increased with age, whereas hyperactivity/impulsivity and tail chasing decreased.”
How Stress Affects Your Dog’s Body
Here is some research that discuss some of the effects stress can have on your dog’s body.
“For example, physiological responses to loud noises can include a dramatic (207%) increase in salivary cortisol, lasting for 40 mins or more; unexpected noises resulted in rapid responses including tachycardia, hypertension, and increased secretion of epinephrine and norepinephrine; and exposure to acute, irregular noises is associated with stimulation of the HPA axis and a rapid (within 15-min) increase in circulating cortisol concentrations.”
They also found, dogs with separation anxiety had an increase in severity and frequency of skin disorders.
Does Anxiety Shorten a Dog’s Life?
We just read about the physiological responses, and together with this abstract we see in some instances, it can shorten a dog’s life. “While neither stranger-directed fear nor any other fear or anxiety scales were related to specific causes of death, fear of strangers was found to be related to a significantly shortened lifespan.”
Can Dogs Recover from Anxiety?
That depends on how severe the anxiety is and what steps are taken to help. Even if your dog never fully gets over it, there is so much you can do that will, at the very least, reduce the level so he can lead a happier and more peaceful life.
How to Calm an Anxious Dog
Before we get into the specifics, here are three very important points.
♦ Make sure your dog has tags and a microchip with up to date contact information. Scared dogs can try and make a run for it, and if yours succeeds you want to increase the chances of finding him.
♦ Keep doors and windows locked, particularly if your dog has a severe noise phobia. Again, panicked dogs have been known to escape…or at least try!
♦ Never, ever punish your dog, even if he pees and/or poops on your beautiful new carpet, or chews the furniture. None of this is his fault.
Remove him from/manage the situation: If you find yourself in a situation where your dog is anxious, do your best to remove him as quickly as possible. When you can, it’s also helpful to avoid situations you know cause him stress.
Exercise: Both physical exercise and mental stimulation (games, puzzle toys etc…) are great stress relievers. To emphasize its’ importance, this study found, dogs with noise phobia and separation anxiety got less exercise. On days when the weather isn’t cooperating and it’s harder to take your dog out, you can still keep your dog active.
Read this ⇒ 18 Ways to Exercise a Dog Indoors
Anti-anxiety medication: Speak to your vet about treatment options, and ask whether a low dose would help take the edge off.
Hire a trainer or behaviorist: You may benefit from someone experienced in helping anxious dogs, and they will give you a tailored plan to follow.
For a more detailed list of treatment options, this article “How to Calm Dog Anxiety Naturally (22 Easy Ways)” can help.
Have you noticed your dog’s anxiety affecting his quality of life? Has it caused any health issues? What caused your dog anxiety and what steps have you taken to help? Sharing helps others, so please leave your tips in the comment section below.
I’m a dog trainer specialising in working with senior dogs. Whether you have health & wellness concerns, or you’ve just rescued an older dog and need training tips, I can help! Sessions are conducted via Zoom and I offer a FREE 15 minute no obligation chat. To book, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website.