*Disclaimer: This article is not meant to serve as a substitute for veterinary advice. Dr.Hempdog believes firmly in the contents of this article because of the thorough research that backs it up and our own experiences with the thousands of dogs that we have helped through the years (including our own). You should always defer to your veterinarian when adding anything to your dog's unique wellness routine.
Just like humans, many dogs (especially certain breeds) get anxious from time to time. This is a normal part of how your dog communicates, but in some cases, anxiety can become a severe issue for not only your dog’s quality of life, but yours as well. In this article, we’ll help you understand why anxiety develops, how you can prevent it, what symptoms it commonly causes, and how you can help manage your dog’s anxiety using CBD/cannabinoids as well as other holistic or traditional treatments.
Types of Anxiety You Should Be Aware Of
Depending on the underlying causes of your dog’s worries, their condition can often be classified as one of several types of anxiety, namely:
- Separation Anxiety
- Fear-Based Anxiety
- Thunder and Fireworks
- Age-Related Anxiety
- Anxiety Following Trauma
- Generalized Anxiety
We’ll explain each of these types of anxiety in a bit more detail below.
If your dog throws a tantrum whenever you leave the house or have them sleep alone, that could be a sign of separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is especially common among dogs who have lost a loved one or who were previously traumatized or abandoned. These scars take time to mend, but with enough love and support, you can help your dog to feel more secure, even when they have to spend time alone.
Fireworks, thunder, new people, other animals, car rides, trips to the vet—some dogs panic when faced with these types of situations, which is known as fear-based anxiety. Fortunately, fear-based anxiety is typically the easiest type of anxiety to recognize, anticipate, and avoid; with enough foresight, you can oftentimes prepare to soothe your dog before they even start to panic.
This type of anxiety can also manifest with environmental changes, such as after moving to a new house. To ease your dog’s worries in foreign environments, try to schedule visits ahead of time to let them acclimate, and preserve familiar routines or objects (like a favorite toy) when possible.
Thunder and Fireworks
Thunder and Fourth-of-July fireworks are extremely common causes of fear-based anxiety. Sometimes, there are even cases where your dog can hear the distant rumbling of these sounds, yet you can’t, which makes it all the more important to focus on your dog’s reactions. Our customers report that Dr.Hempdog’s CBD products tend to be very effective for these situations; if your dog needs extra support, try using a thunder jacket or playing music/ background noise. There is a list of resources at the end of this article with links to learn more.
As dogs age, neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s) can leave them confused and anxious. Similarly, pain and discomfort from other ailments that senior dogs often suffer from, such as arthritis and cancer, may lead to secondary anxiety because the dog is unable to live as comfortably as they used to. In either case, it’s important to treat both their anxiety and the underlying disease causing it. When senior dogs have their underlying conditions addressed, we usually see them easily bounce back from this type of anxiety.
Anxiety Following Trauma
Unless you’ve had your dog since they were born, it’s difficult to know whether or not they’ve been traumatized in the past. By recognizing that this could be a possibility, building trust with your dog, and making sure that they understand that they’re safe now, you can get a better idea of what the dog responds positively to. CBD/Cannabinoids can be very useful to connect with your dog because it can put them in a more relaxed state, which can often help them realize that there is a better way to act. Also, note that other forms of anxiety (especially those related to fireworks and other loud noises) may further aggravate dogs that are already dealing with trauma-related anxiety
Generalized/ “Mystery” Anxiety
At times, anxiety may also manifest with no clear cause or due to less obvious reasons, especially if you don’t know your dog’s full life history (this is extremely common with adopted dogs). A veterinarian may be able to diagnose the source of their anxiety, but even if they can’t, you can still help your dog in many cases using general anti-anxiety treatments.
How You Can Prevent Anxiety
Preventing anxiety isn’t an exact science, but there are certain things you can do to reduce your dog’s likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder or help to manage one that they’ve already established:
- Regular exercise and play: This is the number one thing you can do to help your dog with anxiety. It’s very common for dogs who don’t get enough exercise to end up with pent-up energy that manifests as anxiety and/ or destructive behaviors—lack of exercise can also aggravate other forms of anxiety, so just be aware that this could be a contributing factor. By giving your dog ample opportunity to run and play, you can simultaneously care for both their physical and mental needs. In our experience, walks alone are not an effective form of exercise; dogs need more than that, especially if they are young.
- Frequent mental stimulation: Honoring your dog’s intelligence and engaging them on a regular basis is very important to their mental health; look them in the eye, talk to them, give them jobs to do, and otherwise make them feel like they’re listened to and respected. Make them laugh! Just because they don’t have the same vocal cords we do, doesn’t mean they won’t acknowledge what you’re saying through their facial expressions and energy. Games and other forms of mental stimulation can be extremely helpful as well, especially when adverse weather conditions don’t allow for physical exercise.
- Socialization: Introducing your dog to other animals, people, and environments at a young age can help them to get used to a wider variety of situations, which can reduce the likelihood that they’ll be afraid of these things in the future. For dogs who have been adopted later in life and are struggling with this, a trainer or behavioral therapist can be very helpful.
- Obedience Training: Training creates a foundation of trust between you and your dog, which can oftentimes help to reduce their anxiety or lessen the reactions they might have in unfamiliar situations. We further discuss how training can be useful below.
- Avoiding stressful situations: If you know that your dog gets worked up by certain things, try to minimize their exposure to those circumstances. Avoidance isn’t always possible (such as with fireworks, thunder, or walking down the street), but it’s still good to keep this in mind. If you have the opportunity to gently introduce them to the source of their stress in a calm environment, you can try to slowly acclimate them.
- Reading body language: While your dog might not be able to speak, they can absolutely still communicate their worries through body language. Dogs do smile and frown, and you can tell a lot by looking them in the eye—of course, every dog has a unique personality and different “tells,” so try to focus on your dog’s unique expressiveness. Learning to read your dog’s physical cues can help to give you a sense of when you might need to offer them additional support.
Recognizing the Common Signs of Anxiety
All dogs experience some amount of anxiety from time to time, but if you see any of these symptoms on a regular basis, it could be a sign of a more persistent anxiety issue:
- Excessive barking or whining
- Pacing and restlessness
- Compulsive/ repetitive behaviors
- Shaking and trembling
- Drooling and panting
- Accidents in the house
- Aggression, growling, or destructive behavior
- Depression and shyness
- Self-harm (i.e. licking/ chewing to the point of hair loss)
- Trying to run away/ escape enclosures
- Loss of appetite
Note that some of these symptoms, such as loss of appetite or other behavioral changes, can sometimes be signs of other conditions like cancer and arthritis. Talk to a vet to get a formal diagnosis and make sure that they don’t have any other underlying disorders.
Recognizing decreased activity in dogs can be difficult unless you're explicitly looking for it.
Ways to Manage Anxiety in Dogs and Our Experiences
We typically use a holistic protocol for anxiety in dogs, but we also recognize that non-holistic treatments can be helpful for some dogs. Every dog is unique, so you might need to experiment with different methods to see what works best. Regardless of which approach you take, you should always speak to your veterinarian before changing your dog’s wellness routine.
Below, we’ll discuss each of these anxiety management methods in more detail:
- Creating a Safe Space
- CBD and Cannabinoids
- Anxiety Medications
- Treats, Toys, Games, and Distractions
- Massage Therapy and Touch
- Visual and Audio Stimulation
- Conditioning and Desensitization
- Behavioral Training
- Doggy Daycare
Different Ways to Alleviate Anxiety
- Creating a safe space: Giving your dog a comfy, quiet space to unwind in is a great way to help them destress at home. Try to pick a room with low household traffic and good soundproofing, and set that area aside for rest and relaxation exclusively.
- Note that different dogs can feel comfortable in different spaces; try to tailor things to their unique personality and needs.
- CBD and Cannabinoids: Studies (and our customers’ experiences) show that CBD can help to alleviate anxiety, and furthermore, that it can actually treat some of the common underlying causes of anxiety (such as pain and neurodegenerative disease).
- We have thousands of success stories from members of our community who use our CBD products to manage their dogs’ anxiety. If you’d like to learn more about the science behind this, you can check out our article about the benefits of CBD, which discusses CBD-related studies (including studies about anxiety) in more detail.
- Supplements: Certain dietary supplements (such as chamomile, melatonin, and valerian root) are often used to alleviate anxiety in dogs. While many supplements are generally accepted to be safe for dogs, it’s always important to talk to your vet before adding new things to your dog’s wellness protocol.
- In our experience, supplements can be very helpful depending on the exact situation. Do note that our CBD products work on different systems of the body than other supplements do; if you’d like to learn more, please consult our article about how CBD products work in dogs.
- Anxiety medications: If your dog has an especially severe anxiety disorder, your veterinarian may prescribe anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals (such as Prozac, Xanax, Gabapentin, or variants thereof), but these may cause side effects.
- Some veterinarians are quick to prescribe these, while others prefer holistic care; sometimes it can be helpful to get both sides of the picture so that you can make your most informed decision. In our experience, we’ve had a lot of success using holistic approaches, while knowing that conventional methods were an option if ever needed.
- Treats, toys, games, and distractions: Giving your dog a treat or toy to play with during stressful times can often help to calm them down. This can also help some dogs associate certain triggers with more positive feelings, reducing their overall anxiety. Alternatively, distracting your dog with commands or playtime can give them something else to focus on in the moment.
- Even if you don’t have treats or toys on hand, there are plenty of fun games you can play, such as hide and seek, trick-teaching, obstacle courses, and tug of war—get creative!
- Massage therapy and touch: Physically comforting your dog is one of the easiest ways you can alleviate their anxiety, especially if it comes in the form of a gentle massage.
- This is a great way for you to help your dog during trying times, since you’re directly showing them that you understand their worries and are there to support them.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture is well known to be a relaxing, nearly painless experience for many dogs, according to both first-hand reports and several studies.
- Our dogs have had incredible success with proper acupuncture, especially when provided by a veterinarian with extensive acupuncture experience. We recommend tapping into your network to find an exceptional veterinary acupuncturist. Be wary of veterinarians who have had limited acupuncture training yet are charging the same amount of money; they can still be beneficial, but we see the best results with the highly experienced ones. However, acupuncture isn’t an “at-home remedy,” so in cases where the treatment and the source of the dog’s anxiety are significantly spaced apart, it might be less effective (although, even then, typically people do see some results).
- Aromatherapy: Many people report having success using aromatic tinctures and diffusing certain essential oils to soothe their dog. Certain studies do support this idea, as findings show that lavender and other aromatic compounds can help dogs relax.
- There is always a chance that your dog won’t have the best reaction to a new smell, or may outright be allergic to the compound used. Be careful with new scents and monitor your dog’s reaction closely.
- Visual and audio stimulation: Playing calm music, natural background noise, or online videos during otherwise stressful situations can be helpful for some dogs. This is especially true if they have an aversion to loud noises or separation anxiety, since the audio can cover up certain sounds (like thunder) or simulate household activity.
- While many dogs benefit from this type of stimulation, note that some dogs might not appreciate it and may bark at the tv, so pay attention to your dog’s reactions to different types of media.
- Conditioning and desensitization: Slow, progressive exposure to the source of your dog’s anxiety, paired with plenty of positive reinforcement, can oftentimes alleviate their worries over time.
- Note that this type of treatment should be done slowly and carefully—the goal is to acclimate them to the situation, not to make them panic. If your dog starts getting anxious, stop and take a break. If your dog responds well, then congratulations!
- Behavioral training: In some cases, you may want to seek out professional help from a dog trainer. In addition to their training services, certified behaviorists may also be able to help you recognize and mitigate the underlying cause of your dog’s anxiety if you haven’t diagnosed it already. As many humans who’ve used behavior therapists and trainers to help their dogs say, “it’s not the dogs who need to be trained, it’s the human.”
- If you’re starting with a puppy then you may be able to effectively train them without any professional help. This is achieved through consistency and frequent reinforcement until the age of three, but always follow the golden rule of dog training: “exercise, discipline, then love” (Cesar Milan). For more information, consult the VCA’s guide to relaxation training.
- For adopted dogs who may struggle to connect to their family, trainers can be especially helpful in bridging that gap.
- Doggy daycare: If your dog enjoys being with other animals, it can be helpful to let them visit doggy daycare on a regular basis so that they can find friends, socialize, and get out all of their energy.
We have seen many dogs successfully navigate even the most challenging anxiety cases, and we sincerely hope that you will find the information we’ve compiled in this article to be helpful. You will find a list of pertinent resources at the bottom of this page.
Dr.Hempdog has been able to help thousands of dogs better manage their anxiety over the years, so if you have any questions about how to use our best-in-class CBD products effectively for anxiety in dogs, we encourage you to reach out to us. You can schedule a free, 15-minute consultation with our expert staff by visiting our website, emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by contacting us at (720) 773-9595.
Other Helpful Resources
Additional Anxiety Information: More Reading
- Small Door Veterinary: Managing Anxiety in Dogs
- Central California SPCA: 7 Proven Ways to Calm Your Anxious Dog
- ASPCA: A Detailed Breakdown of Separation Anxiety
- Battersea Dog & Cat Rehoming: Dealing with Stress and Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Resources for General Anxiety
- Audio Stimulation: We find that DogTV can be an excellent tool for quickly finding videos and audio tracks to help give your dog something else to focus on; similarly, Youtube and other free content-sharing platforms can be great places to look. Alternatively, some people report having success with pre-loaded sound machines such as the iCalmDog or ThunderCloud (the latter of which can also diffuse essential oils for aromatherapy).
- Supplements: Putting Dr.Hempdog on your dog’s favorite treat is a great way to administer CBD to even the pickiest of eaters; plus, the natural flavor of the terpenes and flavonoids in our product can further enhance the taste.
- Treats: Raw, frozen marrow bones can keep your dog occupied and distracted for an extended duration, and are also excellent for their health. Obviously, keep your dog’s diet in mind and what works best for them, but this trick has worked wonders for us.
- Games: If you’re in the market for games, treat-dispensing puzzle or chew toys can be a stimulating, yet rewarding way to keep your dog occupied during stressful times. Similarly, you can engage your dog with hide-and-seek by hiding treats near them in progressively more difficult places. Even if you don’t have any toys or treats on hand, you can also try playing tug-of-war using old shirts or rags, or default to the classic: fetch.
- Massage Therapy: Giving your dog a massage is relatively simple as long as you’re gentle and pay attention to their reactions; however, guides can be extremely helpful as well, especially if you’re just starting out. To begin with, we recommend consulting the AKC’s guide to dog massages, or rover.com’s more detailed explanation of when and how to massage your dog.
- Acupuncture: If you’re still trying to find a local veterinary acupuncturist, the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society’s acupuncturist lookup can be an excellent starting point for finding a certified professional in your area.
Resources for Thunder & Fireworks
- Thunder Jackets: We recommend well-established brands like the Thundershirt Classic Anxiety Jacket, or alternatively, the American Kennel Club’s Calming Coat. Both of these products are very similar and provide plenty of options for dogs of all sizes.