There are nearly 90 million pet dogs in America, and a new study has found that almost 70% of them demonstrate some degree of anxiety-related behaviors. Anxiety is common in both adults and dogs, but as pet parents, we want the best for our pups — and that includes relief from anxious feelings.
Some dogs have occasional anxiety, while others suffer from it daily. If you suspect your pooch is feeling anxious, you need to know if it’s a growing problem or just a temporary situation.
As such, you might be wondering if dog anxiety medication over-the-counter is a good idea. To help you better understand dog anxiety, we’ll explore the different types of anxiety, the common causes and symptoms of this condition, and what you can do to treat your dog.
Anxiety in Dogs: Causes and Symptoms
Anxiety is characterized by intense fear and worry. While we often hear it discussed as a human condition, our beloved canine friends can also go through it. There are three major factors when it comes to dog anxiety: separation from owners, fear, and aging.
Separation anxiety is one of the most discussed types of anxiety in dogs. This type of stress stems from a dog’s fear of being separated from his or her owner. Experts from the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign estimate that as many as 40% of domestic dogs experience separation anxiety to some degree.
Common symptoms of separation anxiety include:
- Going to the bathroom indoors (especially if dogs are already house-trained)
- Excessive barking
- Destructive behaviors
- Digging at doors or crates
Some dogs learn to recognize their owner’s departure cues — such as putting on your shoes or grabbing your keys — and anxious behaviors start before the owner even leaves.
According to research published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association, dogs are more likely to experience separation anxiety if they:
- Live in a one-human household
- Become hyper-attached to their owner
While you might think that a dog who was prematurely weaned off his mother might be more inclined to have anxiety, researchers noted that the timing of leaving the mother dog did not have an impact on anxiety.
Much like humans, dogs can develop fears and phobias, which can lead to anxiety. Some fears develop because an item — such as a new bookshelf — is new to the dog. Other fears develop due to associations. For example, a dog who gets carsick may start to dread car trips.
Many dogs experience fear related to noises. This is called noise sensitivity, and it’s quite common. If you find that your dog reacts to loud noises — thunder or airplanes flying overhead, for example — it could be a sign of fearful anxiety.
Symptoms of anxiety caused by fear include:
- Excessive barking, especially at the feared object
- Repetitive behaviors
- Aggression towards the feared item or person
It’s normal for dogs to experience a few fears, especially a puppy who is encountering new people and experiences daily. Some dogs have fears associated with one event, such as a thunderstorm. However, if a dog’s fears continue to grow and recur daily, it can affect his or her mental health and overall well-being.
Anxiety Due to Aging
Aging dogs who experience cognitive decline have an increased risk of developing dementia. This can cause a dog to feel confused even when he’s in his own home. The confusion contributes to feelings of anxiety.
Symptoms of dog anxiety due to aging include:
- Urinating and defecating inside the house
- Excessive barking
- Drooling and panting
- Acting confused by your presence
- Obsessive or repetitive actions
Anxious dogs who are scared and confused may even act aggressively towards family members. As such, it’s imperative to seek the help of a vet to properly diagnose your dog before the condition worsens.
Treating Anxiety in Dogs
While untreated anxiety can impact a dog’s mental and physical health, the good news is that it’s treatable. The best way to treat anxiety in dogs is first to receive a diagnosis from the vet. That’s because some symptoms — such as urinating in the house — can be caused by other health issues such as a urinary tract infection.
A veterinarian can identify the type of anxiety your dog has, which makes it a lot easier to pinpoint your pup’s triggers. Once anxiety is confirmed, the doctor can create a personalized treatment plan.
Anxiety can be managed through a combination of:
- Working with a behaviorist or dog trainer (e.g., learning about counter-conditioning, desensitization, and behavior modification strategies)
- Preventive strategies, such as avoiding triggers
- Calming aids (calming pills and treats, for example)
- Tools such as thunder coats
- Playing calming music during triggering events
Keep in mind that the type and severity of anxiety dictates which treatment (or treatments) will work best for helping your dog feel better.
Dog Anxiety Medication Over-the-Counter
Because severe anxiety can profoundly affect a dog’s quality of life, a vet may suggest anxiety medication. There are several options:
- Antidepressants: Antidepressants and SSRIs, including fluoxetine and clomipramine, can be used for some dogs who have both depression and anxiety. These are available only with a prescription, and dosages are carefully monitored by your vet to ensure your dog’s serotonin (the feel-good hormone) levels are in the healthy range.
- Anxiety medication: Some medications do not mitigate depression but can help with anxiety. This includes medications in the benzodiazepine family, like Xanax for dogs.
- Pheromone-based products: Adaptil contains a synthetic pheromone to calm both puppies and adult dogs. The pheromone is designed to mimic a mother dog’s calming scent.
- Medication to address cognitive impairments: If a dog’s anxiety is due to brain function, a vet may suggest selegiline.
In addition to prescriptions, there are several over-the-counter (OTC) products and supplements that can reduce anxiety. While OTC products don’t use the same active ingredients as the medications from a pet pharmacy, OTC calming pills can be helpful. These products harness the power of either aromatherapy or pheromones to relax dogs.
Why Use Supplements to Treat Dog Anxiety
As with all medications, some dogs experience side effects from prescription medication, especially if too much serotonin builds up. While serotonin plays a big role in keeping your dog’s mood elevated, too much of this chemical can cause confusion, diarrhea, rapid heart rate, and vomiting.
Supplements can help manage anxiety without the same risk of side effects from medication. Supplements are also versatile. They can be used daily, but they can also be used in specific situations, such as during fireworks on the Fourth of July.
Another reason to use supplements: they work well with other anxiety therapies. For example, PetHonesty’s soothing chews complement other types of anxiety treatments, such as a Thunder Shirt.
How to Find the Right Dog Anxiety Supplement
When looking for supplements for your dog, ask yourself the following questions.
Will it work for my dog?
As a pet parent, this is your number one concern. Before trying a new supplement, talk to your vet and browse through relevant product reviews on Amazon to see what other pet parents have to say. After giving the anxiety supplement to your pooch, look for the following signs that would indicate it’s working:
- Your dog is calmer
- Reduced barking episodes
- Fewer signs of anxiety (e.g., panting, pacing, etc.)
- Your dog’s body language is relaxed
Does the supplement have quality active ingredients?
If you want to avoid prescription medication, consider a natural supplement. Look for one that’s free from fillers, wheat, artificial dyes, and artificial flavors. A high-quality supplement contains natural ingredients such as whole foods and chemical-free herbs and powders.
Is it safe?
There are many myths and misconceptions regarding anxiety. While humans may use supplements or essential oils to calm tension, remember that what’s safe for humans isn’t always safe for our furry friends. Using an essential oil diffuser can irritate your dog’s sensitive nose, especially if toxic-for-dog oils are used.
Some worried pet parents may try Benadryl to help their pup find relief. While this OTC drug is safe for dogs (under the direction of a vet), it’s not ideal to use Benadryl for the long-term. Likewise, melatonin is another OTC option that can cause drowsiness in dogs.
On the other hand, calming treats can safely soothe a dog without making him drowsy. For instance, valerian root is an herb that naturally tames stress and anxiety without the need for synthetic ingredients.
Will it taste good?
Even the best supplement won’t do much good if a dog won’t eat it. Look for supplements made with real food like sweet potatoes or beef. Chewable treats are easy to give your dog, and many soft chews act as dog treats.
What’s the Best Calming Treat for Dogs?
You might still be asking yourself, “Is dog anxiety medication over-the-counter the best option?” Every dog is different, so the answer to that question will vary. Some dogs only need a little help with an anxiety wrap shirt while others need to use multiple strategies at once. To ensure your pup gets the best care, speak with your veterinarian.
In the meantime, if you’re considering a calming treat, try PetHonesty’s soothing hemp chews.These chews are a delicious blend of herbs (including valerian root and chamomile), spices (including ginger root), and hemp seed oil to help your pooch stay calm during car rides, vet appointments, thunderstorms, and other stressful situations.
Hemp seed oil is derived from the cannabis plant, and while it does not contain any CBD or THC (the compound that causes psychoactive effects), the oil is known to reduce anxiety in both humans and dogs. Valerian root is also effective in promoting feelings of calm in both adults and dogs.
Soothing chews work well for small dogs and large dogs alike, so whether your dog is a chihuahua or a Great Dane, she’s covered.
Stay Calm and Carry On
A pooch who isn’t demonstrating any signs of anxiety likely doesn’t need a calming supplement unless it’s recommended by your vet. But if you notice that Fido is having more bathroom accidents while you’re at work,frequently barking at night, or acting uneasy when you leave, don’t overlook the possibility of dog anxiety.
Consult your vet to determine if your furry friend could benefit from other interventions for stress relief. Together with your vets, you can get your pooch the calming relief they deserve.