What many pet owners don’t know is that dogs can also get panic attacks. Similar to people, canine panic attacks can be due to various triggers. Such triggers cause intense fear, which will manifest through physical symptoms detrimental to a dog’s health. With this, it’s important to know how to help a dog having a panic attack to lessen its impact on the canine’s well-being.
To provide the proper help to your dog, I also discussed here the common causes or triggers. This way, you can approach the problem properly.
What causes panic attacks in dogs?
Panic attacks, as with humans, occur when canines experience a sudden yet intense wave of fear. This makes the dog extremely frightened and confused at the same time. Aside from the emotional toll, panic attacks will also trigger physical symptoms.
A dog with a panic attack will experience rapid heart rate, panting, trembling, and pacing. In most cases, this will be accompanied by destructive behavior as the dog tries to cope.
But what really causes panic attacks in dogs? The following are some of the most common triggers:
Separation anxiety is the most common cause of panic attacks in dogs. This happens when a canine becomes over-attached to a specific person. When that person leaves, the canine becomes extremely anxious.
Such anxiety can be so intense that it can trigger a panic attack. About 14% of dogs suffer from separation anxiety, so it’s safe to conclude that panic attacks also occur in many canines.
Aside from panic attacks, separation anxiety also causes accidents all over the house, destructive behavior, and excessive vocalization.
Take note that separation anxiety in dogs won’t go away on its own. It becomes worse by the minute, and only training and proper intervention can stop this.
Another thing that could trigger a dog’s anxiety is loud noises. Fireworks, sirens, car horns, and the likes can cause a full-fledged panic attack on a very sensitive canine.
Take note that dogs have heightened senses. They hear sounds four times louder than humans, so just imagine how disorienting it is to be surrounded by exploding firecrackers or even a loud crowd.
Unexpected noises are often the most common culprit. It could be an explosion on TV or a bursting balloon. But, depending on the dog’s response, even the sound of a falling saucepan hitting the floor can cause a panic attack.
The key here is desensitizing your dog to the noise. However, you should still limit your pet’s exposure to loud sounds since it can damage the canine’s hearing.
Prolonged confinement can also get the best of your dog. Boredom paired with separation anxiety is likely to end up in a massive panic attack. And if your dog is alone, this translates to destructive behavior, messy accidents all over your house, and an irate neighbor due to your dog’s vocalization.
In other dogs, being confined in a kennel or fence can also be a catalyst to a panic attack. It all depends on the canine’s sensitivity level, temperament, and other stimuli present in the environment.
In most cases, panic attacks are due to fear. It’s possible that a dog associated the trigger with a bad experience, much so for rescued canines.
Aside from that, dogs with fear of strangers, other canines, or specific objects may have panic attacks when exposed to them.
This varies per dog, so it’s important to know what your pet is scared of. While most cases of fear in dogs are mild, some are strong enough to end up in a panic attack.
Lastly, senior dogs are more prone to separation anxiety than their younger counterparts.
Aging is associated with cognitive decline, which makes dogs easily confused, scared, and anxious. Without the comfort of their owners, these old dogs can easily experience panic attacks.
In this case, the only thing a pet owner could do is provide comfort to lessen their senior dog’s fear. Take note that panic attacks become more prominent as old dogs start to lose their sight.
How to help a dog having a panic attack
While panic attacks can be alarming, there are ways to help your dog. Here are a few steps that pet owners can try to help their dogs and prevent future attacks.
Your presence is the basic help you can give your dog with a panic attack. Comfort goes a long way in soothing a scared dog.
You can cuddle with your dog and slowly pet its body to calm its anxiety. It will also help to talk gently to your dog to distract it from the trigger.
If there’s an external trigger, it’s best to bring your dog to an enclosed room. This will help calm the canine, especially if the trigger is loud fireworks.
However, if your dog gets aggressive during panic attacks, you shouldn’t try to hug it right away. Instead, try to coax the dog and let it approach you on its own terms.
For dogs who experience severe panic attacks, prescription medication is the best solution. Your dog’s veterinarian will determine if this medication suits your dog and what the right dosage is.
Some of the effective medications for canine panic attacks are fluoxetine, Tranxene, and alprazolam. However, this is strictly prescription-based and must be administered with the supervision of a veterinarian.
Also, the vet can guide you on the proper administration of the medication. Most importantly, the veterinarian will guide you should side effects occur on your pet.
✔️Consider CBD products
If you don’t want to give pharmaceuticals to your dog, you can consider using CBD oil for anxiety instead. Unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive and proven safe when used in controlled doses.
Unlike drugs, CBD oil is natural and unlikely to cause adverse side effects. You can administer it sublingually on your dog’s mouth or add it to the canine’s food.
If you have a picky pet, you can consider giving CBD treats instead. These yummy bites are infused with the same calming benefit of CBD oil. It’s safe and will deliver fast effects.
However, you should consult your dog’s vet before giving any CBD products. Also, some veterinarians are on the fence when it comes to prescribing or approving CBD products due to state/federal restrictions.
Veterinarians also encourage pet owners to keep their dogs active to combat the risk of panic attacks. This will help drain the dog’s excess energy, which can be a contributing factor to anxiety.
Daily walks, regular playtimes, and mental exercises are all beneficial for anxious canines. Still, make sure that the dog’s activity level is suitable for its breed.
If you can’t take your dog outside, you can still exercise it indoors. For example, a short run on the treadmill will help most canines. Also, you can set up a small agility course in your yard or spare room where the dog can play freely.
✔️Desensitize your dog
A long-term help you can give your dog is desensitizing it to its triggers. Take note that this process takes a long time, and it’s best to enlist the help of a dog trainer or a veterinarian.
For dogs with anxiety, here is the thing you can take:
- First, identify the moment your dog shows signs of separation anxiety. For some dogs, it’s when their owners reach the door or when they hear the jiggling of keys.
- When your dog shows signs of anxiety, stop on your tracks and take a step back. You can place your keys back on the table or just literally take a few steps away from the door.
- Repeat this and observe how your dog will react. After the third time and your dog still shows signs of stress, stop the repetition and go back inside to proceed with normal household activities.
- By doing this, you’re breaking your dog’s association with the trigger. This requires patience and consistency since some dogs may take longer to respond to training.
- You can also combine multiple pre-departure triggers, so your dog won’t predict your next move. It will also help to shuffle your routines before leaving, so your dog won’t guess the time you’re about to leave.
- Most of all, don’t make a big deal about leaving. Never say or kiss your dog goodbye. Simply exit the door and go back as you should.
- Practicing departures will also help break your dog’s association with triggers. This includes opening the door for a few seconds then close it shut. You can also try exiting the door then going back after a few seconds. This will teach your dog that you’re going to come back.
✔️Never punish your dog.
You should never punish your dog for having panic attacks. This reaction is something that’s out of your dog’s control. Punishing and using violence will just make your pet’s anxiety much worse.
Whatever behavioral problem your dog has, punishment is never the way to go. Positive reinforcement is more effective and proven by every dog trainer you could ever meet.
Recurring panic attacks can be frustrating on your part as a pet owner. Still, your dog needs patience and understanding whenever it experiences a panic attack.
✔️Remove or reduce triggers.
Removing or reducing the panic attack triggers of your dog is also a big help. For example, if your dog’s trigger is loud sounds from the television, you should tone it down from now on. You should also inform your family about your dog’s fears.
Take note that desensitization isn’t just about exposing your dog to the trigger. Gradual and controlled exposure is necessary to prevent the canine’s fear from worsening.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why is my dog shaking and scared?
A: If your dog is shaking and scared, it’s likely suffering from a panic attack. This can be due to loud noises, fear-related anxiety, and aging. However, in some cases, shaking and what appears to be fear could be the onset of poisoning and other related health problems.
Q: Can dogs outgrow panic attacks?
A: Panic attacks are emotional, mental, and physical, so dogs don’t simply outgrow them. Still, puppies who get panic attacks at a young age may start to become calmer over the years. However, this is a case-to-case basis depending on the intensity of the canine’s fear, the trigger, and how the owners handle the problem.
Q: Can stress cause panic attacks in dogs?
A: Stress compounded with fear and anxiety can lead to a major panic attack. So if your dog has a history of panic attacks, it’s crucial to keep its environment as calm and as predictable as possible. This way, the doggo won’t have sudden bouts of anxiety and stress that could trigger another attack.
Q: Can a dog hyperventilate?
A: Dogs can hyperventilate the same way humans do. It’s characterized by rapid and short breaths, which is different from heavy breathing or panting. In some cases, dogs having panic attacks will experience hyperventilation as a symptom.
Q: Can a dog have a heart attack from being scared?
A: It’s possible for dogs to experience a heart attack due to intense fear, though I haven’t known of any such case. Nonetheless, panic attacks and fear are not healthy for canines. You must address the triggers right away to give your dog the best quality of life.
Q: Can dogs develop panic attacks later in life?
A: Panic attacks can happen in dogs across ages. Both young puppies and old dogs are at risk of having this problem. It all depends on the dog’s predispositions and biases as it grows older. Most of all, your dog’s experiences will impact its risk of having panic attacks.
Knowing how to help a dog having a panic attack will save pets from the agony. Panic attacks are excruciatingly stressful for canines, and they can also take a toll on their overall health. So as pet owners, it’s our job to ensure that our dogs are safe and anxiety-free.