Dog anxiety is real. These products can help calm your anxious pet.
Dogs can be one of the best natural remedies for anxiety in humans. But experienced pup parents know that anxiety can also be just as big of a problem for our four-legged friends, too.
Lots of products — from supplements to calming beds — sell themselves on helping to manage dog anxiety. But there’s also a lot of misinformation and pseudo-science being sold, which is why we asked three veterinary and dog behavioral experts for their advice on which aids and products might actually help tackle the beast of anxiety.
Is anxiety common for dogs?
“Anxiety is common, and often dogs with it exhibit a wide range of symptoms and severity,” said Dr. Travis Arndt, medical director at the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America in Missouri. The current moment is a particularly hairy time for anxious pups, too, as the pandemic’s disruptions to our schedules and lifestyles (including our pets’) now once again threatens to drastically change. “Dogs, being creatures of habit, don’t usually like changes to their routines.”
According to Dr. Jennifer Frione, a veterinarian who owns the Lakeside Animal Hospital in Florida, “Our pets have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis just like we have. While we are finding ways to cope with the pandemic stress, pets have anxiety, too. Now that the vaccine is widely available and people and places are going back to normal, prepare for your pet to experience separation anxiety as you return to work or other activities.”
But the pervasiveness of dog anxiety goes far beyond current circumstances.
“There can be a genetic predisposition or anxiety can be caused by either or both mental or physical trauma,” said Dr. Wailani Sung, the director of behavior and welfare programs at the San Francisco SPCA, an independent nonprofit animal welfare organization and hospital not associated with ASPCA. “Anxiety is the worry that something scary or bad may occur – most likely due to a previous negative experience or fear of the unknown.”
What are signs a pet might be facing anxiety?
There are a host of different types of anxiety. But our veterinary experts said some of the most common symptoms can include:
Upset stomach or more frequent accidents
Destroying things around the house (like scratching doors and windows, chewing items or even through doors)
Not eating or accepting treats
Excessive whining or barking
Chewing and licking a hot spot constantly and possibly causing bleeding
Hiding under the furniture
Escape attempts like jumping out of the window
Fear-based aggression toward other dogs and people
While some products can help manage a dog’s anxiety, none are ever a replacement for the more long-term, fundamental practices like behavioral modification training and lifestyle management, Dr. Sung said. The most important fixes for dog anxiety include: lots of socialization and early (positive) exposure to common triggers at 3-12 weeks of age, daily exercise, play and entertainment, good diet, and consistent routines. In some severe cases, prescribed pharmaceutical medications may be necessary.
“As with any medical or behavior problem facing our pets, early recognition and intervention are key to successfully managing the issue. Promote calm in your dog’s daily life using professional guidance from your veterinarian and behaviorist to provide behavioral modification, and to select the combination of medication and behavioral support products appropriate for your dog,” said Dr. Arndt.
While treatments vary greatly depending on the type of anxiety and triggers, Dr. Sung said one widely applicable behavioral training method for anxiety is, “redirecting the dog whenever he starts to look anxious.” To do that, you must first train a foundation of commands that shifts their attention away from the trigger, like: sit, look, touch, find it, go to mat, leave it, turn around, etc. “They can be redirected to fun activities, such as playing fetch or tug of war. Dogs with noise sensitivities should be provided with a safe space to retreat to.”
Behavioral training strategies like this one have been tried and tested through decades of research and practice. But the same can’t be said for many anxiety products. While the ones listed below have other benefits like being easier and more accessible than one-on-one dog training lessons, there’s often not a lot of scientific data or study to prove their efficacy — so approach many with a grain of salt.
“While these products are widely available, there is not always the level of guidance provided to owners. When people have little guidance from veterinary or behavioral professionals, often they select products based on price or testimony of friends, family, or sales associates. Lastly, if used incorrectly these products and supplements delay pet owners from seeking the professional help their dog needs and risks the anxiety worsening,” said Dr. Arndt.
Dr. Sung also advised staying away from new and trendy anxiety reducers with not only no scientific testing but potentially negative impacts, too, like CBD and certain essential oils.
“We don’t know what the appropriate doses are to reduce anxiety. We don’t know how CBD can potentially interact with other medications and how it is metabolized. Many products tested do not contain the stated amount of CBD or can be cross-contaminated with THC,” she warned.
Ultimately, Dr. Frione said that “Canine anxiety unfortunately does not have one easy fix. It is complex and takes time, patience, and consistency to help your fur-baby overcome it.”
Also, the products spotlighted below include only what we were able to get samples of and review for ourselves by testing it on the author’s extremely anxiety-prone rescue pit bull. Any other products referenced and linked are still expert-recommended, but not personally tested.