How to deal with anxiety in dogs during a pandemic

Humans are now feeling cooped up and stressed out due to COVID-19 and the isolation we have to maintain to keep ourselves safe from infection.

Unnoticed or unknown to many pet owners, another member of the household is also experiencing a change in mental state at this time:  our pets.

Animal experts have said dogs and cats have stress thresholds just like humans.  Too many changes—an owner suddenly working from home, the dog can not go out walking, or there are too many children in the house—can lead to anxiety in dogs.

“They can lose their coping mechanisms, “ said Sammy Caiola in “Stress During Covid 19 Can Affect Your Dog or Cat. Here’s What You Can Do” in

Louise was a very jolly dog until the heavy rains two weeks ago and after three months of the whole family being on lockdown. She now experiences anxiety attacks which we have been managing through the help of a vet and recommendations of friends who have gone through the same problem.
Sadly, humans may not notice the changes in their pets or might brush aside excessive barking or a change in behavior as a simple dog trick or a cat’s way to get attention.

Aside from the sudden disruption in the dog’s or cat’s routine, our anxiety can trickle down to them, Caiola said.

“They’re not sitting there wondering if we are gonna succumb to a horrible virus, but certainly our concerns become their concerns,” Caiola quoted  Liz Stelow, a veterinary behaviorist at UC Davis.

They feel our emotions, Caiola stressed.

Many owners have called pet trainors about their dogs who are acting strangely.

“There’s something new, there’s something that changed … and they start barking, chewing, digging, biting, fighting,” Caiola quoted James Summey, owner of JTS Dog Training in Sacramento, California.

“It might have gone under the radar for a while, but that one little stressor just kind of pushes them over the edge, and it really shows [owners] what their dog’s true colors are,” Summey added.

Summey recommended basic obedience training, saying repetition, patience and consistency might help the pets.

It is important for a dog or cat to maintain a certain semblance of a routine, he said.

“If you normally take them on a morning walk or a nightly walk, continue to do that… And if they are normally kenneled during the day while you’re at work, you need to still kennel them and separate yourself, maybe work in a home office or separate room,” said  Kayla Corey, a trainer with a Northern California obedience company called Bark Busters.

“The consistency is really important," Corey said.

Louise wears a calming vest when she is having an anxiety attack.  
But Caiola noted that Liza Stelow of UC Davis stressed training “is not an end-all-be-all solution. She says dogs that are exhibiting anxious or aggressive behavior, either toward their owners or toward other dogs, might have something more complicated going on.”

Stelow said fighting is an emotional issue, not an obedience issue.  This means the dog does not need a teacher or trainor but an equivalent of a therapist for dogs.

“Your dog probably needs anti-anxiety medication while you work out whatever else is going on,” Stelow said.

“Veterinary behaviorists can write those prescriptions, but Stelow says many are not seeing new patients due to COVID-19. She suggests concerned pet owners call their veterinarians to ask about behavioral treatment,” sad Caiola. 

If professional help is not available yet or you want to do more for your pet, Caiola cited Stelow’s recommendations to maintain a state of normalcy for your pet in the time of a pandemic.

1. Check your emotional state and how this affects your pet.

“If I had a dog that was particularly worried when I melted down, I might try to find another place in the house to do that, so he didn’t have to take part in it,” Stelow said.

2. Give your pet an alone time.  Give your pet some distance when he growls or when she hisses, instead of reprimanding the pet.  Space and distance can help them calm down.

“When you’re trapped at home with your dog who’s growling at you and you ask him to stop, he may end up escalating. Take it as a warning that they’d like you to step away, and actually do that,” Stelow said.

3. Some research has shown playing classical music and certain audiobooks can also help your pets relax.

Our dog Louise has been having anxiety attacks. The final trigger, we believe, was the sound of the rainfall when it rained so hard about two weeks ago. The sound of the rainfall made her panic. She was panting too much we were afraid she would have a  heart attack.

The first thing we did was to consult a vet. A blood test was done to rule out any heart problem. The results showed she is very healthy.

She was given a calming medicine that has natural ingredients as we try to avoid chemical-based meds that might damage her liver and kidneys. This calming pill for dogs is given only when she is panting heavily.

When she is panting or barking non-stop, we also switch on the aircon and the television because we found out these calm her.  A panic attack causes the body to generate heat in the body, thus the dog (or human) needs to cool down. 

A dog (or human) experiencing panic attack will also use up a lot of energy, thus the dog (or human) needs more food. We make sure Louise has more food she likes at this time.

Lastly, we bought a calming vest.  It is quite different from a dress or a shirt for dogs as it is a little more tight when worn but the material is soft.   We paid a lot of money for that warmer but it helped her somewhat and we would do anything to make her feel comfortable.

You can also use put your dog on the bed and cover her with a soft blanket as blankets calm dogs.

If your dog is pacing or barking excessively and panting heavily, please bring your dog to your vet at once.

Topics: anxiety attack , panic , Dogs , Pets , COVID-19 , Sammy Caiola
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