It can be hard having a dog who’s anxious. Unfortunately, it’s a reality that many owners must deal with at some point. Every dog is unique and has different anxiety triggers.
Here are some common reasons for canine anxiety, and the best ways to manage it so that your dog will feel as calm and happy as possible.
6 Common Types of Anxiety in Dogs
There are a variety of issues that can cause anxiety in your dog. Here are six reasons that could explain why your dog seems anxious.
1. Separation Anxiety
Every dog owner has experienced the guilt that comes with leaving your dog behind. Whether it’s just for the day while you go to work, or for a longer period when you’re on vacation, it’s stressful for our canine friends when we’re not with them.
Being left home alone is stressful enough. Having to stay in an unfamiliar environment, such as a kennel or someone else’s home, is even more stressful and can trigger anxiety.
2. Travel Anxiety
Even when you bring your furry friend with you on a trip, it can be a stressful experience. Some dogs get anxious (or carsick) being in a car, boat, or airplane. Traveling in crowded places like bus stations and airports can be disorienting, loud, and overstimulating for your dog.
3. Illness-Related Anxiety
There are health issues that can increase anxiety. Dogs who lose their hearing or seeing abilities can become anxious or startled by their surroundings. Illnesses like diabetes, encephalitis, and hypothyroidism can all make dogs more fearful and anxious. Any condition that causes pain can also make your dog anxious … including chronic pain from joint inflammation.
4. Anxiety From Loud Noises
Storms are scary. Thunder and lightning often leave dogs trembling and anxious. Other loud and unexpected noises like fireworks and gunshots may have a similar effect. This type of anxiety is easy to observe because it only occurs during loud noise.
5. Age-Related Anxiety
Just like elderly people, dogs suffer from declining cognitive and sensory abilities as they age. Loss of memory, vision, and hearing are a part of getting older and can cause anxiety in dogs. You may notice that older dogs like to stay close to you and are more likely to feel lonely than younger dogs.
6. Anxiety From Psychological Trauma
Rescue dogs often suffer from anxiety, especially if they’ve had a long shelter stay. Some may have a history of abuse or neglect. But don’t assume that’s always the case. Shelter dogs are almost always given a laundry list of vaccines “just in case” … even though they may already be vaccinated. And that kind of over-vaccination can often lead to fearful or anxious behavior.
Signs of Anxiety in Dogs
When it comes to identifying anxious behavior in your dog, body language is everything. Anxiety can manifest in many ways. Here are a few signs to look out for:
An anxious dog who’s alone is likely to distract himself by chewing on whatever’s available to him. Shoes, furniture, towels, and pretty much any other household item are fair game for an anxious dog. He may also dig holes in the yard and have accidents indoors despite being potty trained.
Excessive Barking Or Whining
Whining and barking are easy-to-recognize signs of anxiety. But how do you know when your dog is whining or barking out of excitement rather than anxiety?
It depends on the context. Has your dog had enough exercise, food, and attention, and is he free from physical injuries? If so, and if he is still whining or barking, it may be due to anxiety. Some dogs may also howl or yawn frequently when anxious.
Socially anxious dogs may bark, growl, or lunge at new people or animals. If your dog is comfortable only with you, is overly protective of you around others, and cannot tolerate the presence of unfamiliar people or animals, he has social anxiety.
Dogs may do strange things when they are anxious. For example, they may lick the floor or furniture, lick themselves more than usual, pace back and forth, pant excessively, or tremble.
Glued To Your Side
If you have a velcro dog who needs to always have you within his sight and seems unable to relax, it may be due to anxiety.
Now that you know what can cause anxiety, and how to recognize when your dog is anxious, let’s look at some natural ways to calm your dog’s anxiety.
Natural Remedies for Anxiety in Dogs
Instead of resorting to anti-anxiety medication to calm your dog, try some of the many natural remedies that can help.
Herbs for Anxiety
Herbs have been used by people for centuries to treat all sorts of physiological and psychological issues. They provide a safe alternative to medications like anti-depressants or sedatives. These drugs can have many potential side effects and often have to be given long-term to be effective. Herbs can help calm your dog without the risks.
Here are the best herbs for treating anxiety in dogs:
Chamomile is a natural sedative, which helps your dog relax and soothes the stomach. This is a great herb to use for dogs that get car sick.
Chamomile dose for dogs: Use a glycerin tincture and give .25-.50 ml per 20 lb, twice daily leading up to the event. Place it in your dog’s mouth or drinking water. You can also make chamomile tea and give your dog 2 tsps for small dogs, up to 2 tbsp for large dogs, added to food or water.
St John’s Wort
This herb is a natural anti-depressant that’s great for helping dogs with fear-based anxiety in certain situations, such as exposure to loud noises. Use it to improve your dog’s mood and reduce anxiety.
St John’s Wort dose for dogs: Use a tincture and give 1 drop for extra small dogs, 2 drops for small dogs, 3 drops for medium dogs, 4 drops for large dogs, and 5 drops for extra-large dogs, twice a day before food.
Passionflower is a fast-acting herb that calms the nervous system.
Passionflower dose for dogs: Give your dog passionflower in tincture form and add it to his daily water. Use 0.5 to 1.5 ml per 25 lbs of body weight.
This is another well-known natural sedative that can calm your dog’s nerves. It is safe for dogs and a gentle way to encourage the relaxation of the body.
Valerian root dose for dogs: Give 5 drops of valerian root tincture, 3-4 times a day (for any size dog).
Caution: Don’t use valerian in pregnant or nursing females.
Oatstraw helps create a sense of calm, similar to Valerian, passionflower and skullcap.
Oatstraw dose for dogs: Oatstraw can also go directly into your dog’s water as a tincture. Give him 1-2 ml per 20 lbs of body weight daily.
CBD Oil for Anxiety in Dogs
In addition to herbs, there are natural products available to help your dog with his anxiety issues. You may have noticed that cannabidiol (CBD) products are becoming very popular. But how does CBD oil affect dogs?
CBD oil is made from a natural full-spectrum hemp product. Although it comes from the hemp plant, it does not contain the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that marijuana contains. This means that your dog won’t get high if you give him CBD oil for anxiety.
There is a lot of research happening around the exact mechanism, but CBD oil is thought to work with the endocannabinoid system to produce serotonin, a natural mood stabilizer.
There are many types of CBD products available for dogs. Look for a full-spectrum, organic product that’s independently tested to verify CBD content, and contains only trace amounts of THC (less than 0.3%). Dose according to the manufacturer’s instructions … but don’t be afraid to increase the dose if you’re not seeing results. Every individual’s cannabinoid receptors are different, so some dogs may need a higher dose.
Behavioral Strategies to Reduce Anxiety in Dogs
Besides giving your dog calming herbs, there are other techniques you can use to reduce your dog’s anxiety.
For dogs with situational anxiety, you can desensitize your dog from stressors by getting him used to certain behaviors and gradually teaching him to associate events he finds stressful with positive emotions.
For example, if your dog gets anxious on car rides, you can practice getting in and out of the parked car using lots of treats and praise, until your dog feels like the car is a safe place. Then, you can move to the next step, such as starting the engine while your dog is in the car and making him as comfortable as possible.
Make sure you give your dog enough regular exercise outdoors and try to maintain a consistent routine. Having a predictable schedule can help keep your dog calm. Exercise is also a huge stress reliever.
When leaving your dog at home alone, be matter-of-fact about leaving. Don’t make a fuss of him before you leave or when you get back. You can also practice picking up your keys and walking out, then coming back a few minutes later so he starts to realize your leaving isn’t a big deal. A good walk before you go can also help him settle.
If he’s crate-trained, he may feel safer staying in his safe space when you’re gone. Leaving him with a piece of clothing that has your scent may also comfort him. Some gentle classical music or leaving the TV or radio on may also soothe him with some background noise.
There is no one remedy for anxiety that’s right for every dog. But now you have several natural solutions to calm your dog’s anxiety and improve his quality of life, no matter what the cause is.
Abascal, Kathy & Yarnell, Eric. (2004). Nervine Herbs for Treating Anxiety. Alternative and Complementary Therapies.10. 309-315. 10.1089/act.2004.10.309.
Bartner, Lisa R et al. Pharmacokinetics of cannabidiol administered by 3 delivery methods at 2 different dosages to healthy dogs. Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research, Volume 82, Number 3, July 2018, pp. 178-183(6)
Corsetti, S., Borruso, S., Malandrucco, L. et al. Cannabis sativa L. may reduce aggressive behaviour towards humans in shelter dogs. Sci Rep11, 2773 (2021).