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Published: Mar 18, 2024 7 min read

Dogs can experience anxiety just like humans. It manifests in dogs through certain behaviors, such as panting, shaking, hiding and more. Fortunately, many anxious dogs can receive treatment — which is often covered by the best pet insurance companies.

Keep reading to learn the dog anxiety signs and the treatment options available.

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Anxiety warning signs in dogs

Since dogs can’t tell us how they feel, we can learn a lot from their body language and habits.

Pay attention to your dog’s tail, ears and eyes. According to the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, if their tail is tucked, their ears are back or the whites of their eyes are showing (also called whale eyes), your dog could be nervous or anxious.

Here are some behavioral signs of anxiety in dogs:

  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Trembling
  • Drooling
  • Hiding
  • Irritability
  • Aggressiveness
  • Acting overly friendly (jumping, frantically licking someone or acting needy)
  • Avoidant behavior
  • Urinating or defecating inside
  • Destructive behavior
  • Excessive barking, whining or other vocalization

Keep an eye out for any changes in your dog’s habits as well. They can experience displacement behaviors, which are normal actions that occur at non-normal times. Some examples include yawning when they’re not tired, blinking their eyes when they don’t need to and more. Sometimes, displacement behaviors can be anxiety signs.

Causes of dog anxiety

Dogs may experience anxiety when they’re anticipating something happening that scares them. There are a number of causes, including the following:

  • Fear: Certain things can cause your dog fear-based anxiety. For example, it's very common for dogs to be uneasy when they hear fireworks or when a thunderstorm is rolling in. They can also experience anxiety when they’re in new places or around unfamiliar people.
  • Separation: Dogs can develop separation anxiety when away from their owners or family.
  • Medical issues: Pain or other discomfort can cause your dog to be anxious.
  • Generalized anxiety: Dogs can have generalized anxiety, which makes them constantly anxious about many things. These dogs may seem on constant alert and unable to relax.

Dog anxiety treatments

Your vet may recommend behavioral modification or medication. The first step is to determine what type of anxiety your dog has and what is causing it. This will allow you and your vet to create an appropriate treatment plan.

Here’s more information about anxiety treatment options your vet may recommend:

Behavior modification

Behavior modification training can help your dog be more comfortable and less triggered. It helps change how your dog behaves in certain situations. It can be very effective for anxiety and other behavior problems.

Your plan will depend on your dog’s anxiety and what triggers them, but it usually involves desensitization and counterconditioning.

Desensitization involves gradually exposing your dog to their anxiety triggers until they no longer trigger them. It’s often recommended for fear-based anxiety. For example, suppose your dog is afraid of the loud noise of the vacuum cleaner. In that case, you can start slowly introducing the vacuum by putting it far enough away from your dog (you may even have the vacuum powered off during the first introduction). You can gradually move it closer to your dog each time you work on this training method.

Counterconditioning is a different method that involves introducing something positive when your dog is faced with something that makes them nervous. For example, if your dog is afraid of strangers when you’re on a walk, you can give them treats when you pass one. It’s a way to condition your dog into thinking positively about the trigger in hopes it won’t bother them anymore.

Dog trainers and other professionals always recommend using positive reinforcement training methods with your dog. That is, rewarding positive behavior rather than punishing bad behavior. Additionally, remember to reward your dog when they are calm.

Remember that behavior modification can take time. Consider working with a veterinary behaviorist to develop the best plan for your dog’s needs.

Dog anxiety medications

Your dog’s veterinarian may prescribe anti-anxiety medication to ease your dog’s symptoms. According to the Cornell Richard P. Riney Canine Health Center, your dog may benefit from anti-anxiety medications either while you are working on behavior modification or for the rest of their life.

Some common medications prescribed for anxiety in dogs include the following:

  • Fluoxetine
  • Gabapentin
  • Clomipramine
  • Trazodone
  • Dexmedetomidine

When taking medication for anxiety management, it’s essential to monitor your dog’s behavior and heed all instructions from the veterinarian. Like humans, not all medications will work the same for all dogs. You may need to try a few different ones before you find a solution, so don’t get discouraged.

Some pet owners also consider natural supplements. However, always talk to your veterinarian before giving your dog any of these products.

Does pet insurance cover dog anxiety treatment?

Depending on your policy, pet insurance typically covers certain anxiety treatments.

It usually covers prescription medications as long as they are prescribed by a licensed veterinarian or doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) and are FDA-approved. Some companies also cover certain behavioral therapies or training for anxiety if your vet recommends it.

Check with your policy to see if you have this coverage and what your coverage limits are.

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Dog anxiety signs and treatments FAQs

What is the best treatment for anxiety in dogs?

The best treatment for your dog can vary based on the root cause of their anxiety. Treatments include behavior modification and medication. For your dog to receive the proper treatment, visit your veterinarian. They can assess your dog’s behavior and habits to determine the best anxiety treatment plan.

What does anxiety look like in dogs?

Anxiety can manifest in dogs in various ways. Your dog may exhibit behavior such as panting, shaking, pacing or drooling. You may also notice your dog hiding or showing aggression or irritability. If you suspect your dog has anxiety, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

Why is my dog anxious all of a sudden?

In some cases, dog anxiety can seem sudden. The cause of your dog’s anxiety can stem from numerous reasons, including fears, separation, age or a medical issue. A veterinarian can examine your dog to rule out any medical conditions and develop an anxiety treatment plan.

Summary of Money’s guide to dog anxiety signs and treatment

Dogs can experience generalized anxiety or anxiety caused by fear, separation, aging or medical issues.

Your dog’s body language and behavior can be signs of dog anxiety. Some common anxious behaviors include panting, pacing, shaking, drooling, hiding, being aggressive and more.

There are various treatment methods, including behavior modification and prescription medication. Both methods can help your dog feel less anxious around their triggers.

If your furry friend is experiencing symptoms of anxiety, contact your veterinarian for an appointment. They can examine your dog to rule out any medical issues that may be causing the issue and also help create a treatment plan that works for your dog.