What is Considered a Panic Attack for a Dog?
A panic attack in dogs is actually remarkably similar to a panic attack in people. In both dogs and humans, heart rate elevates substantially, breathing usually becomes harder and faster, shaking can often occur, and just like humans often bit their nails, dogs often will bite on their skin or their fur. However, a person can, at least after calming down some, express themselves and what is making them panic. Dogs obviously can’t, so they bark, growl, and hide to show their emotions in other ways. The majority of the time, even if you do not know why a dog is upset, their panic attack is usually relatively short, and you can help them calm down by giving them attention, talking to them in a calm tone, and gently petting them.
Seeing your dog afraid of something may not seem like a big deal to you. You may think that it is just a part of your dog’s personality, and because you can comfort them and calm them down rather quickly, it’s not really that big of a deal. This may be the case if your dog has panic attacks infrequently, but if your dog has regular panic attacks, you should get them treated because panic attacks can weaken your dog’s immune system as well as lead to several other health problems.
Furthermore, your dog’s panic attacks may actually be caused by an underlying medical condition. This is especially possible if your dog starts having panic attacks out of the blue when nothing else in their life has changed. For this reason, if your dog has a panic attack on more than one occasion, or you struggle to get them to calm down, take them to the vet to get a proper diagnosis.
So what are some signs that your dog’s panic attack is a more severe problem? For one, if your dog displays aggression towards you or himself in the form of self-mutilation (for instance, biting or chewing on himself), it’s a pretty severe problem. Dogs will rarely want to hurt themselves or someone they consider to be a safe person/member of their pack. For this reason, if your dog has sudden outbursts due to anxiety, you should take the panic attacks seriously and seek veterinary care immediately.
Your dog may have a panic attack for a variety of different reasons. It could be a loud noise such as a firework, thunderstorm, or even the dropping of an object. Your dog may feel anxious when trapped in a space or also due to a change that seems minor to you but largely impacts your dog. These causes are especially true for rescue animals that may have been abused or neglected before they came to you.
Finally, remember that not all forms of anxiety are panic attacks. Your dog may just have some fear or nervousness about something, and it is not nearly as serious as a panic attack. Many dogs will run and hide to a safe space due to something like a firework going off, and that’s completely normal and okay. What you need to pay attention to are any extreme symptoms or outbursts that could show your dog is feeling panicked rather than just nervous or a little anxious.
Symptoms of a Dog’s Panic Attack
Your dog may have a panic attack that comes out of nowhere and without any apparent warning, or you may begin to notice that a couple things that trigger a panic attack every time. Sometimes, you may not even realize that your dog is having a panic attack because the symptoms can be so similar to other behavioral problems. It is essential to know the signs and symptoms because you do not want to discipline your dog for having a panic attack.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of a panic attack in your dog:
- Rapid breathing. This can sound like your dog is out of breath or hot, but can occur when your dog is neither.
- Fast heart rate. You generally won’t be able to tell whether this is occurring unless you are holding or touching your dog
- Dilated pupils.
- Pacing. Just like humans, dogs can pace when they are anxious.
- Loss of appetite. Any time your dog is not eating when they should, you should pay attention. If it is not a panic attack, something else may be wrong.
- Ears back and tail tucked under them.
- Hiding. They may not always hide well, but this can still be a sign.
- Shaking and trembling.
- Excessive licking or biting on their skin or fur.
- Whining, excessive barking, or howling. This alone is not necessarily a panic attack but may be when combined with other symptoms.
- Aggression. For example, biting or growling at you or another person.
- Overly clingy. This can also be a sign of anxiety.
- Digging or scratching.
- Trying to escape or run away. If you are not home, or they are trapped, and you come back to a scratched up door or damaged fence, they may have had a panic attack.
- Going to the bathroom inside/in places they are not supposed to.
Four Panic Attack Types
These are the four main situations that can cause dogs to have panic attacks:
When in confinement, a dog may get anxious. Whether he is indoors or outdoors, in a small space or a larger one, a dog may have a panic attack if they feel likey they can not escape or get out. This can include spaces/situations such as:
- Fenced-in yards.
- Dog pens and kennels.
- Being shut inside a room.
- Being trapped in an enclosed space on accident.
Travel anxiety can be due to several reasons. They may have a panic attack due to motion sickness, it may be a compound issue with anxiety due to confinement, or your dog may just be anxious because it is something he has never experienced before. Additionally, it will probably help if you are with your dog, but he may still panic. Here are some common situations that can trigger travel anxiety:
- Riding in a car
- Flying on an airplane
- Riding on a train
- Riding on a bus
- Visiting strange places (after the actual traveling is complete)
Noise anxiety is just what it sounds like, anxiety due to noise. Usually, this is because of a loud or sudden noise that the dog was not expecting, but it can also be due to a strange noise or one that triggers an upsetting memory (especially true for rescues). Below are some of the most common sounds that trigger anxiety in dogs:
- Loud and unexpected noises
A dog can have separation anxiety when they feel alone or separated from you or another dog that they usually have around. Here are some common causes of separation anxiety:
- Being left alone
- Loss of an owner or playmate
- Significant life change such as moving
- Traumatic events
Diagnosing Panic Attacks
When you take your dog the vet for panic attacks, the vet should perform a complete physical examination and will most likely order some laboratory tests such as a fecal smear, urine analysis, or blood test. If possible, it can be helpful to take a video of your pet having a panic attack. Additionally, try to keep a record of any and all circumstances that might be related to the panic attacks. All of this information can help your vet diagnose your dog better and get them the treatment they needs.
Treatments for Panic Attacks in Dogs
If your dog has regular panic attacks, your vet may prescribe one or more of the following possible treatments.
Just like humans can get medication for anxiety, so can dogs. Vets will often prescribe medication to treat your dog’s panic attacks if they are regular and severe. They may also prescribe medicine to address health issues related to the panic attacks. Some of the more common forms of medication are Tranxene, fluoxetine, buspirone, amitriptyline, and alprazolam.
Natural solutions include products like NaturPet Be Calm are perfect for relieving anxiety so your pet can relax and you don’t have to crush up pills for them to take. The formula uses natural ingredients to help nurse your pet back to better health faster. For instance, it contains valerian root and black cohosh which both reduce blood pressure and muscle tension. Ashwagandha is also included to improve the health of the nervous system and ease stress and mental exhaustion.
A lot of experts in the field say that more vigorous exercise can help pets with anxiety and panic attacks. The reason behind this is that the workout will tire the dog physically and give them an outlet for energy, so then they will not be as anxious. Beyond this, exercise causes the brain to release serotonin, which can work just like an antianxiety medication.
Provide Your Dog With a Safe Haven
Providing your dog with a small room or cage where he can come and go as he pleases, can make them feel safer. It gives them a space they can feel safe and protected. You can encourage your dog to go into their ‘safe place’ when they are anxious, but you should never trap them in as this may cause an increase in panic.
It may take some time to help your dog recover from panic attacks, but they can be managed with patience and working with your dog. If the vet does not seem to be able to give you advice that works, some therapists can help your dog with further treatment and care.
At Nature Pet Store we believe that nature has provided the best medicines of all and that pets deserve only the very best! We are passionate about pet health, pet behaviours, and pet training.