Hi stranger! Signing up for MypetMD is easy, free and puts the most relevant content at your fingertips.

Get Instant Access To

  • 24/7 alerts for pet-related recalls

  • Your own library of articles, blogs, and favorite pet names

  • Tools designed to keep your pets happy and healthy



or Connect with Facebook

By joining petMD, you agree to the Privacy Policy.

Extreme Fear and Anxiety in Dogs

ADVERTISEMENT

Fears, Phobias, and Anxieties in Dogs

 

Fear is the instinctual feeling of apprehension resulting from a situation, person, or object presenting an external threat -- whether real or perceived. The response of the autonomic nervous system prepares the body for the freeze, fight, or flight syndrome. It is considered to be a normal behavior, essential for adaptation and survival; its context determines whether the fear response is normal, or abnormal and inappropriate. Most abnormal reactions are learned and can be unlearned with gradual exposure.

 

Moreover, the persistent and excessive fear of a specific stimulus is referred to as a phobia. is a persistent and excessive fear of a specific stimulus, such as a thunderstorm. It has been suggested that once a phobic event has been experienced, any event associated with it, or the memory of it, is sufficient enough to generate a response. The most common phobias are associated with noises (such as thunderstorms or fireworks).

 

Anxiety, meanwhile, is the anticipation of future dangers from unknown or imagined origins that result in normal body reactions (known as physiologic reactions) associated with fear; most common visible behaviors are elimination (i.e., urination and/or passage of bowel movements), destruction, and excessive vocalization (i.e., barking, crying). Separation anxiety is the most common specific anxiety in companion dogs. When alone, the animal exhibits anxiety or excessive distress behaviors.

 

Profound fear and withdrawal of unknown cause (so called idiopathic fear and withdrawal) has also been noted in certain dog breeds, including the Siberian Husky, German Shorthaired Pointer, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Pyrenees, Border Collie, and Standard Poodle, among others. There appears to be a strong familial component, with the likelihood of a genetic influence.

 

Most fears, phobias, and anxieties develop at the onset of social maturity, from 12 to 36 months of age. A profound form of fear and withdrawal of unknown cause occurs at 8 to 10 months of age. Old-age-onset separation anxiety of unknown cause may be a variant of a decline in thinking, learning, and memory in elderly dogs.

 

Symptoms and Types

 

  • Mild fears: signs may include trembling, tail tucked, withdrawal, hiding, reduced activity, and passive escape behaviors
  • Panic: signs may include active escape behavior, and increased, out-of-context, potentially injurious motor activity
  • Classic signs of sympathetic autonomic nervous system activity, including diarrhea
  • Anxieties: lesions secondary to anxious behavior (such as licking and biting at the self)

 

Causes

 

  • Any illness or painful physical condition increases anxiety and contributes to the development of fears, phobias, and anxieties
  • Aging changes associated with nervous system changes; infectious disease (primarily viral infections in the central nervous system), and toxic conditions, such as lead poisoning, may lead to behavioral problems, including fears, phobias, and anxieties
  • Fear from a terrible experience; dog may have been forced into an unfamiliar and frightening experience
  • Dogs that are deprived of social and environmental exposure until 14 weeks of age may become habitually fearful
  • Phobias and panic may have a history of inability to escape or get away from the stimulus causing the phobia and panic, such as being locked in crate
  • Separation anxiety: history of abandonment, multiple owners, rehoming, or prior neglect is common; exacerbating the condition may be that the dog has been often abandoned or rehomed because of separation anxiety

 

Diagnosis

 

Your veterinarian will first want to rule out other conditions that might be causing the behavior, such as brain or thyroid disease. The behavior could also be originating from a response to a toxic substance, such as lead. Blood tests will rule out or confirm such a possibility.

 

If your veterinarian diagnoses a simple fear, anxiety, or phobia, a prescribed medication may be all that is needed. But your doctor will most likely make recommendations based on your individual dog, the fear trigger, and types of beavhioral techniques that can be used to alleviate your dog's fears and anxieties.

 

 

Comments  3

Leave Comment
  • Severe anxiety and fear
    01/27/2015 11:30pm

    My husband & I adopted a rescue dog 2 weeks ago. The dog was rescued from a hoarders home which consisted of roughly 150 small dogs. We think, our rescue suffers from severe anxiety and fear. Furthermore, the dog has been through 3 foster homes, making my home #4. Matters worse, she can't eat often times & there's lots of gurgling from her lower abdormen area. What can we do for our dog to calm her down & make her eat food.
    Can someone PLEASE help us...thank you

  • 02/01/2015 05:02pm

    I totally understand your situation! My standard poodle Clifford which I purchased from a very reputable breeder at 8 weeks of age is now almost 13 months old and he suffers from an anxiety disorder. I have him on an all natural supplement from my vet called Zylkene, I am monitoring him very closely on the medication as I really don't want him to rely on medication to help him relax and calm down. So I saw these Thunder Shirts advertised at the vet clinic and in the local pet stores that are supposed to help dogs with anxiety, I have to say I was a little skeptical at first as I passed by them a few times and then read the box a few times before finally purchasing one to give it a try as my Clifford recently lost almost 10lbs!!
    The Thunder Shirt works!! I couldn't believe the difference and of course it is immediate not like waiting for medication to work! At first I thought maybe I was just hoping something would work that I was seeing a response that wasn't there. But then he went in to the vet clinic for some blood tests and had the shirt on and the staff at the clinic could NOT believe the difference! They said they wouldn't have believed it if they hadn't seen it!
    So maybe give the shirt a try, it's an easy solution if it works for your poor little dog!
    GOOD LUCK!

  • 02/03/2015 10:47am

    Your dog does not feel safe. The only way he will lear to feel safe, is he looks to your for everything. Exerise and learning patience are the keys to calming your dog.
    Try doing everything for your dog. Do not let him make any decisions, since most are wrong due to his anxiety. If he wants to sit on your feet, say no and ask him to sit somewhere else, like his mat. If he wants to go left, go right. Everything must go through you. Make sure he walks slightly behind you. If he goes ahead, just say "lets go" and turn around. You are in front again!

Dog Care Questions
Answered By

Q. From whom should I get my puppy? The local shelter, my neighbor, a breeder, or a pet supply store?

A. Many people believe that it is better to get a puppy from a reliable breeder. While...

Read More
Q. How do I select a quality dog breeder?

A. To choose a quality breeder, take the time to conduct a thorough research on the...

Read More
Q. Should I get a mixed breed or purebred puppy?

A. A purebred puppy is a better option for some people because there is a better idea...

Read More
View All the Questions

Featured Breed

Turk

Doberman Pinscher

Featuring Turk
The Doberman Pinscher is a dog breed first developed in Germany as a guard dog. Once known to be aggressive, the Doberman's temperament has improved through tactful breeding over the...

LEARN MORE