If you’ve experienced a panic attack, you know that feeling of your heart racing while you’re trying to catch your breath. As a dog lover and canine behaviorist, I have always wondered if dogs experience something similar, or even the same. I've seen hundreds of fearful dogs over the course of my career, and, from what I have observed, dogs do appear to have panic attacks.
But like any other time I have a question, I head to the research to see what has been studied. To help you skip the long process of reading tons of scientific jargon — I've included what science (and I, as a professional in this field) have found here.
If you think your dog could be experiencing some anxiety, there are also some actionable tips toward the end.
Why Would Dogs Have Panic Attacks?
If you have anxiety (psst... I definitely do), you know that there's not always a known trigger, per se. It could seem to spring out of nowhere. I would say this is similar for our dogs, especially in dogs who have past trauma. This is just speaking from my own professional experience, though.
Possible Triggers of Dog Anxiety
If there is a trigger, it could be something your dog is incredibly afraid of, like thunder. Dogs who are afraid of thunder will often hear that first rumble and begin their anxiety routine. Some will run for shelter, others will bark or cry excessively, and some may even need their handy dandy thundershirt put on.
Other possible triggers for panic attacks could include:
In addition to thunder, some dogs may experience anxiety when they hear fireworks (very common) or a gunshot.
With some dogs, if they notice you're gone, they'll panic and begin searching for you.
Other Animals or New People
The sudden sight of a stranger or a new dog could make dogs nervous enough to have a panic attack.
Chaos, Noise, and Busy Surroundings
Family gatherings that result in a lot of noise and chaos could result in your dog becoming overstimulated.
As stated earlier, trauma could absolutely be a trigger on its own. Take a military working dog as an example. If they have PTSD from the war, they could have a random flashback and that could cause a panic attack.
Dog Panic Attack Symptoms
Think about how you'd feel if you had an anxiety attack. Panic attacks in dogs resemble our own as humans and may include:
- Shaking, shivering, or trembling
- Pacing back and forth
- Looking for a retreat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Accidental urination
- Looking to their pet parent for help and comfort
Questions to Ask Your Veterinarian About Panic Attacks in Dogs
If your dog is experiencing frequent panic attacks or you aren't sure if what they experienced was an attack, it's time to take a trip to the vet's office. Before you head out, get a list of questions together and jot them down on a notepad. Here are some to get started:
- My dog is showing “X” behaviors… do you think it’s anxiety or something else?
- Are there any tests that should be done to rule out medical issues?
- What prescription medications are available to help?
- What are the side effects of the recommended medication?
- I would like to try something natural first — what do you recommend?
- Do you think full-spectrum CBD could help?
- What other natural methods are available?
- What are the side effects of the natural remedy versus the traditional?
- Can the natural and prescription meds be used together?
Integrative and holistic veterinarians are often equipped with more knowledge regarding natural treatments.
What the Veterinarian May Recommend
My mother’s dog, Stormy, used to have panic attacks fairly regularly until the vet prescribed her Xanax. Though the panic attacks significantly slowed down, the Xanax was making Stormy, her English Springer Spaniel, extremely sleepy. Now she's on Prozac and is doing really well.
Never give your dog any type of medication without veterinary advice. Your veterinarian can guide you on dosage and any counterindications that would make these medications unsafe for your dog.
According to Northgate Veterinary Clinic, these are some of the other medications veterinarians may prescribe and why:
This medication is provided for anxiety in social settings. According to Northgate Veterinary Clinic, it's "not suitable for specific situational anxieties such as visitors to the home or thunderstorm phobias."
For separation anxiety and situational anxiety.
To relieve situational anxiety such as noise phobias and aversions.
For dogs with panic disorders due to severe noise aversion or phobia.
For dogs with situational anxiety. According to Northgate Veterinary Clinic, "this medication should be administered in advance of the anxiety-triggering event."
Prescribed to dogs suffering from generalized anxiety, separation anxiety, thunderstorm phobia, and fear-based aggression.
Other Ways to Help
Not everyone wants their dog to be taking pharmaceuticals daily. If you’re looking for a more holistic approach, there are many options you and your veterinarian can try first.
The Importance of Your Emotions
Your dog can sense your emotions. If you’re calm, they’re more likely to be. Likewise, if you’re upset, angry, or panicking about something, that is going to show in their behavior, too. If you stay calm while they’re having a panic attack, they’re more likely to return to normal faster than if you start running around the house like a madperson because your pup is acting off.
Your dog looks to you to determine how they should feel.
Providing an Escape
I don’t know about you, but when I have an anxiety attack, I want to be somewhere alone where I can rest for a few minutes, take deep breaths, and get away from the world. This can help our dogs, too. For most dogs, this place is their crate. If your dog doesn’t have a crate or their crate is in the main area of the house, they may look for a closet or a bedroom to hide in for a few minutes. Giving them the time to collect themselves is super important. Don't rush the process of returning to normal.
RELATED: How to Crate Train Your Dog
Play Calming Music To Help Your Dog Settle
Sometimes, calming music could be a good strategy. There have been studies involving shelter dogs that show certain kinds of music significantly help them relax. More research needs to be done, but classical music may help your anxious dog calm down when feelings of panic start to set in. According to Animal Hearts Caring Hospital, "classical music has been found to be the most helpful type of music for decreasing strain and apprehension in dogs."
Provide a Distraction From the Situation
Distracting your dog with something fun or tasty may help their anxiety. Puzzle games can encourage problem-solving skills and critical thinking, taking their minds off of the fear or anxiety they may have. This strategy not only helps in diverting their attention but also helps them associate stressful situations with positive outcomes, which can eventually lead to reduced levels of anxiety in your pup.
Boredom can also cause anxiety — finding ways to keep your dog busy can be helpful.
Full Spectrum Hemp Extract for Anxiety
There’s a lot of controversy behind full-spectrum hemp extract these days, but it is becoming more popular as more information is provided to pet parents. If you don’t want to try this out, don’t worry — I completely understand. But I do want to discuss it as an option for those interested.
Before adding any supplement to your dog's diet, be sure to run it past your veterinarian.
To provide some insight into my background here, I have worked as a canine cannabis expert for about 5 years for both behavioral reasons and for dogs with cancer. I'm well-versed in the research and continue to remain up-to-date in this field. The suggestions regarding full spectrum hemp extract are my own as a professional in this field, not those of LoveToKnow Pets.
Look for High-Quality, Full-Spectrum CBD
First things first, it needs to be a high-quality full-spectrum CBD or full-spectrum hemp extract (these terms can be used interchangeably). Broad-spectrum hemp extracts don’t contain all the cannabinoids because they’ve removed THC (along with some other important compounds that disappear with the refining process).
Full-spectrum contains a very small amount of THC, but it’s not enough to get your dog ‘high.’ It's enough to encourage something called the entourage effect, which is what helps with stress and anxiety relief.
Full-Spectrum CBD for Dog Panic Attacks
Research is uncovering the fascinating results that full-spectrum CBD can provide for our dogs. But how does it work? Dogs (and all other mammals) have this incredible system called the endocannabinoid system, and that’s where the cannabinoids from CBD oil visit in the body (connecting to areas called receptors). Our dog’s body has half of the puzzle piece, and cannabis has the other.
Once the puzzle pieces are connected, your dog’s body is able to release more serotonin, which is a natural compound in your dog’s (and our own) body to stabilize emotions. The endocannabinoid system has tons of receptors all throughout the body that help soothe anxiety naturally, along with boosting other parts of your dog’s health and wellness.
Those who have come to me and said, "CBD didn't work for my dog," often grabbed a low-quality form of CBD oil with impurities and a severe lack of cannabinoids. It's crucial you grab a full-spectrum, high-quality product.
Rule Out Medical Problems First
If you think your dog could be experiencing panic attacks or extreme moments of anxiety, it’s important to see your vet to rule out any medical conditions first. Once you’ve ruled out medical problems, you can then move onto the behavioral side of things. Go through the list of suggestions and see what works. If you have any questions along the way about traditional or holistic ways to help your dog’s mental health, don’t hesitate to reach out to your vet.