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Can Dogs Have Panic Attacks?

Anxiety can arise from the anticipation of frightening or adverse encounters with particular individuals, objects, animals, or circumstances. However, canines may also transition from anxiety to full-blown panic. Below, we delve into the topic of panic attacks in dogs, exploring what they entail and how they manifest.

Do dogs have the capacity to undergo panic attacks?

Much like humans, dogs can indeed experience panic attacks. Individuals who endure panic attacks often describe an abrupt onset of profound fear. They might undergo physiological reactions like an increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, nausea, or headaches. Typically, panic attacks arise without a specific trigger, often manifesting during periods of heightened stress.

How can we discern if a dog is undergoing a panic attack?

Although we cannot directly inquire about a dog’s emotions, we can observe certain signs indicative of panic, including:

  • Sudden panting
  • Restlessness and pacing
  • Trembling
  • Increased salivation
  • Attempts to find a hiding spot
  • Seeking the owner’s attention in a frantic manner
  • Pawing or jumping up on their owner
  • Digging in the bed, closet, or bathroom
  • Vomiting
  • Immediate gastrointestinal distress, such as defecation or diarrhea
  • Urination

For instance, one of my canine patients experiencing panic even resorted to pulling out the drawer under the oven in an attempt to hide within the opening.

Diagnosis How can we differentiate between anxiety, phobias, and panic attacks in dogs?

Understanding whether your dog is experiencing anxiety, suffering from a phobia, or having a panic attack is crucial.

Phobias vs. Panic Attacks in Dogs:

Distinguishing a phobia from a panic attack depends on the presence of a trigger. If a specific trigger elicits intense reactions from your dog, it may be classified as a phobia. People with phobias describe an irrational fear of something, a feeling that can be similar in dogs. Triggers can include sounds, people, objects, locations, or situations. Many dogs develop phobias towards thunderstorms and fireworks. Panic attacks in dogs typically occur without a trigger.

Dog Anxiety vs. Panic Attacks:

Anxiety arises when your dog dreads a specific event or situation. The anticipated threat can be real or perceived. For instance, a dog may display signs of anxiety before a vet trip, having picked up on cues signaling the impending visit. Signs of anxiety in dogs include panting, pacing, vocalizing, inappropriate elimination, seeking attention from owners, and physical manifestations such as pulling ears back against their head with the head lowered and tail hanging down or tucked under the abdomen.

Tips For Helping Dogs Cope With Panic Attacks

To assist dogs coping with panic attacks, it’s essential to ensure they receive a comprehensive physical examination from their veterinarian. Diagnostic tests might be conducted to eliminate any potential medical causes for the reactions.

Provide Plenty of Exercise and Mental Stimulation

Pet owners should also ensure that their dogs receive ample physical and mental exercise, pending approval from their veterinarian regarding the level of activity. Engaging in a minimum of a 15-20 minute walk and/or 15-20 minutes of play each day can effectively lower a dog’s stress levels. Introducing puzzle toys for dogs to work for their meals can also stimulate and mentally exhaust them. Additionally, short training sessions can be beneficial in keeping dogs mentally engaged.

Offer Comfort to Your Dog During a Panic Attack

If your dog experiences a panic attack and seeks your attention, offering comfort can be beneficial. You can soothe your dog by petting, hugging, or holding him if it helps alleviate the signs of panic. Depending on the severity of the episode, you can attempt to:

  • Distract and redirect your dog’s focus by engaging him with toys.
  • Take your dog for a walk to change his environment.
  • Practice basic obedience cues or teach new tricks using high-value treats.
  • Some dogs may find comfort in being petted, brushed, or massaged by their owners.

It’s important to provide a safe space for your dog to retreat to during a panic attack. Playing calming classical music and ensuring the area is free of external stimuli such as household traffic or other pets can help. Additionally, using dog pheromone sprays or plug-in diffusers in the space can aid in reducing anxiety.

Look Into Supplements or Medication to Help Manage Your Dog’s Panic Attacks

Consider exploring supplements or medication to assist in managing your dog’s panic attacks. Some dogs may find relief from natural supplements like l-theanine or l-tryptophan, both of which have calming effects on animals.

However, if your dog undergoes severe panic attacks where they endanger themselves by attempting to jump through windows or by chewing or digging through walls, it’s imperative to consult their veterinarian for prescription anti-anxiety medications.

Anti-anxiety medication can be administered as needed, or in some cases, a pet may benefit from daily maintenance medication to maintain overall calmness. If your dog experiences panic attacks regularly, maintenance medication can aid in coping with these episodes, potentially reducing their frequency and duration.

Avoid Punishing Your Dog

Avoid punishing your dog during a panic attack, as similar to humans, becoming angry at someone experiencing panic seldom resolves the issue. In most cases, it exacerbates the situation. Yelling at your dog, spraying them with water, coercing them to lie down, or using a shock collar will not aid a dog experiencing a panic attack. These methods only amplify fear and anxiety. Dogs cannot control their emotions or physiological responses in such scenarios. If they could choose another option, they likely would. Individuals who have experienced panic attacks rarely describe the experience as pleasant and certainly wouldn’t wish to endure it again. Your dog requires your love and support during their time of need.

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