What is a Dog Panic Attack? Signs and ways to help

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A panic attack is a natural response to an overwhelming stimulus that causes many dogs to experience extreme fear. Symptoms include shaking, drooling, panting, and hiding.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss what they are, how they can be treated, and ways you can help your furry friend if he or she regularly suffers from a panic disorder.

Can Dogs Experience Panic Attacks Like Humans?

Are you worried that your dog has panic attacks? It is completely natural to be worried when they show signs of anxiety.

scared dog panicking

Yes, panic attacks in dogs are surprisingly common, however, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help your pup cope better.

A panic disorder in dogs is no different than the equivalent human version; it is just more difficult to understand since humans cannot talk to pets to find out the problem.

What Are the Symptoms of a Panic Attack in Dogs?

If your furry best friend is prone to sudden panic attacks, here are some dog anxiety symptoms to look for:

  • Shaking or trembling
  • Dilated pupils
  • Hyperventilation
  • Excessive salivation, or drooling from the mouth
  • Running away
  • Self mutilation, chewing legs, tail or feet till they bleed
  • Hiding in a small space, like under the couch
  • Displaying submissive body language – head down, arched back, tail tucked.
  • Excessive Licking
  • Restlessness and inability to settle down
  • Whining and pacing around
  • Sudden Panting
  • In some cases, hiccupping
  • Excessive barking
  • Clinging to their owner for security

A dog experiencing a panic attack will show symptoms that may include the above signs, as well as others that are specific to your pup’s needs and personality traits. Dogs who suffer from dog anxiety may also have other signs that are not related to anxiety attacks.

We have a detailed article about how to recognize the signs of dog anxiety that you can check out here.

https://www.schnauzers-rule.com/fear-biting.html

The Causes of Panic Attacks in Dogs

Like humans, there can be many reasons why your canine friend may experience panic attacks. 

fearful and aggressive dog

Some of the more generalized anxiety causes in dogs include:

  • Noise anxiety can trigger an intense fear of loud noises or unexpected noises such as fireworks, thunderstorms, and gunshots.
  • Response to a painful or frightening experience, even if it happened years ago.
  • Separation anxiety can occur through the emotional stress of being alone for long periods of time without their owner or from being rehomed multiple times.
dog in a crate
  • Confinement can trigger a panic attack, especially when feeling trapped and vulnerable in a confined space such as a small room or a crate.
  • Travel anxiety, consisting of car rides, boat trips, flying on an airplane, riding on trains. Pups suffering from travel anxiety may have an intense fear of being confined, or they could find the loud noise scary. Your dog’s fear might be triggered by the movement of the vehicle and this could result in motion sickness.
  • Extreme stress associated with a dog park, dog boarding, or other places where other animals gather.
  • Abuse or other major trauma can trigger anxiety in dogs.
  • Age related angst can occur and is a sign of cognative disfunction in older dogs.
  • New situations or strange places, or even strange people can create intense nervousness.
dog running away

When dogs experience a panic attack, it can be scary and even dangerous if your pet takes off running at full speed. As pet owners, it’s a good idea to make sure we are aware of what specific trigger will cause a panic attack.

That way, we can try to avoid them altogether.

How Long Can a Dog Panic Attack Last?

If your anxious dog starts to experience panic attacks suddenly, you may find the symptoms can come on very quickly and last for a few moments or even hours.

scared dog under a car

If your pup has experienced panic attacks before, he may know how to help himself by retreating into a safe space for your dog, such as under the bed or in a dog crate.

The length of time that this lasts will depend on what the trigger was to cause the flare-up.

Can Dogs Have Panic Attacks at Night?

Do dogs experience panic attacks in their sleep? Your pet can definitely have anxiety attacks while they are sleeping.

This is similar to humans who wake up from a nightmare or dream without warning and feel extremely frightened.

dog having a dog panic attack

Your dog may be breathing fast in their sleep, and acting fidgety and agitated.

Don’t be surprised if your anxious dog begins pacing, panting, drooling excessively, or acting nervous when they wake up after suffering an attack during sleep.

If this happens frequently, you may want to make sure your anxious pup is sleeping in an environment that will calm your dog and keep him feeling safe such as a crate.

What Do I Do If My Dog is Having a Panic Attack?

If you feel helpless when your furry friend suffers a canine panic attack, you are not alone. Many owners feel this way when their dog may suddenly become anxious and upset for no apparent reason.

scared dog

Your canine companion’s safety is the most important thing to consider during an intense panic attack. If your dog begins running around at full speed or moving quickly in any direction, it may be hard for you to get out of the way.

Try to take hold of your pup so he doesn’t run into furniture, walls, or other obstacles that could cause injury.

If your dog displays aggression, they may also try to snap at you. If your furry friend is extremely frightened or feels threatened by a perceived threat nearby, try not to take this uncharacteristic behavior personally, as anxious dogs may react in a totally irrational way.

dog snapping

If this happens, do not attempt to put them in a dog crate or any place where your pet can feel trapped. This will make them even more upset and agitated than before the panic attack began.

Instead, try to remain calm, so your dog knows you are not part of what is upsetting them. Your pup may also be able to pick up on your nervousness, and their fear may worsen, which will cause the cycle to continue.

Avoid Punishing Your Dog

It’s important not to punish dogs that are experiencing a panic attacks, even if they are being aggressive. This can escalate the problem, and it could even lead to mental and physical injuries for both your dog and you.

don't punish your dog

If your pet is suffering a panic attack, try to stay calm. You can help a dog recover best by remaining quiet and relaxed and continuing to comfort them until the episode passes.

Ways to Cope with Panic Attacks in Your Anxious Dog

Here are some helpful techniques you can try to prevent your dog’s panic attack:

  • Create a “safe space” in your house, such as an enclosed dog pen, dog bed, or crate. Crate training is a wonderful solution for dogs left alone while dealing with separation anxiety.
  • For noise fears, make sure their enclosed space in the house isn’t near loud sounds like a TV or radio or anywhere where there could be a sudden noise, like fireworks, sirens or the sound of a car flying by.
  • Play calming music to slow down their heart rate and keep stress at bay.
  • Try to keep your dog in a consistent routine as much as possible, including their feeding schedule and exercise regimen.
  • When it is time for a bath or nail trimmings, make sure you have plenty of treats on hand. Dogs may experience more stress during these activities if they are not used to them or do not understand why they are being done.
  • If you know or suspect there will be changes in your dog’s life, make sure you take the time to prepare them beforehand slowly. This includes any changes in your dog’s routine, moving to a new house, or even just doggy daycare.
  • Keep walks short and fun! When dogs are on a leash, they can feel trapped if they get scared by another dog or person.
panicking dog on a lead
  • Introduce new people slowly with treats that your dog loves!
  • Take your dog for more vigorous exercise to tire your dog physically and mentally. Giving your dog a good workout will burn off that extra nervous energy and make them calmer and more relaxed.
  • If doggie daycare or other dog socialization is not an option, try to come up with a fun activity that your pet loves and do it regularly. This will help them build confidence so are better prepared if they ever need to be around other dogs again.
  • Make sure your veterinarian check’s your dog’s health for any issues that may be contributing to the panic attacks.
  • Offer comfort to help your dog. Like humans, dogs need a little reassurance, support and some quality time with their owner.

Nutrition & Exercise

Good nutrition and exercise are important for overall health and well-being, including mental health. Dogs that are physically and mentally healthy are less likely to experience irrational fears or other psychological problems.

exercise your dog

A healthy diet is important for dogs with anxiety. Nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids can help to support cognitive function and reduce the symptoms of stress. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna, and flaxseed oil.

dog eating

Vigorous exercise is also essential for dogs with anxiety issues. More exercise for your dog may help to improve mood and reduce stress levels. Dogs should get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.

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For more information about Thundershirts and how they can help pets cope better with anxiety and panic attacks, check out our detailed article here. We also have another article about how to put one on your dog and how easy it is.

Supplements or CBD Treats, CBD Oil

Some pet owners are turning to other ways to treat their furry friends, and many have found CBD oil and CBD treats are an effective way to calm dogs that experience anxiety.

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Veterinary Diagnosis of Panic Attacks and Treatment Options

If your dog is experiencing severe panic attacks, the first step is to take them to a veterinary clinic so that your veterinarian can do a complete physical examination and give you valuable advice.

vet checking panicky dog

A thorough physical examination by your vet, along with diagnostic tests will rule out any underlying medical condition that could be contributing to your dog’s panic attacks, such as an elevated heart rate or blood pressure.

Skin scraping, blood samples, or fecal smears may be taken so the vet can send them for laboratory tests.

Your veterinarian may give you advice, or prescribe anxiety medication or other treatments to help manage a panic attack.

medication

They might even devise a treatment plan or refer your furry friend to a dog behaviorist.

Vet Prescribed Anti Anxiety Medication

There’s a wide range of medications that a veterinarian might prescribe for a pup with anxiety or panic attacks.

Some of these include anti-stress drugs, antidepressants, and even beta-blockers.

medication

Dogs that have a recurrent panic attack may likely be put on maintenance medication to help keep episodes under control.

Dog Behaviorists that Treat Anxiety in Dogs and Phobias

There are a number of helpful behavioral therapies that can be used as a treatment for anxiety or dog panic attacks.

A qualified dog behaviorist can help to identify the triggers that cause your dog to have a panic attack by studying your dog’s behavior and body language. They will be able to identify behavioral problems and the type of anxiety your pup is struggling with and teach you the correct mental stimulation techniques to use.

dog behaviorist

Some of the most common behavioral therapies used to treat dog anxiety include:

  • Behavior modification therapy: This type of therapy involves changing the way that a dog behaves in order to reduce anxiety and chances of a panic attack. It can be effective in helping your dog cope with their fears and anxieties.
  • Counterconditioning: This therapy involves teaching the dog to associate positive things with the situations that cause them concern. For example, if a dog is afraid of people, they may be taught to sit or lie down when someone comes near them. This will help to reduce the fear response.
  • Flooding: This therapy is used to help dogs who are afraid of specific objects or situations. Dogs may be exposed to the objects or situations that they are afraid of until they no longer react with fear.
  • Desensitization: This therapy is similar to flooding, but it is used to help dogs who are afraid of certain sounds or smells. The dog is gradually exposed to the sound or smell until they are no longer afraid.

Final Thoughts

A dog may experience panic attacks for a variety of reasons, including being left alone, noise, travel anxiety, new environments, people they don’t know, or other similar trigger points.

This kind of anxiety in dogs could result in unnecessary barking, panting, drooling, hiding, or other behavioral problems.

If your pup has a panic attack, it’s important to seek veterinary care to rule out any underlying medical conditions and to get help in managing the attacks, possibly using anti-stress medication.

dog panic attack scared dog

Dogs that have recurrent panic attacks should be on maintenance medication for their health issues, and may also need to receive some sort of behavioral therapy.

A dog behaviorist may recommend one of a number of helpful behavioral therapies that can be used to treat nervous dogs with anxiety or panic attacks,

Pet owners are also increasingly turning to CBD oil, CBD treats, and Thundershirts as an effective way to calm panic attacks in dogs, or treat other health problems, These natural remedies are proving to be extremely popular and have an impressive success rate.

dog coming down the stairs

If your pup suffers a panic attack, it’s a big deal that shouldn’t be taken lightly, anxiety if left untreated can make your pup’s life extremely miserable.

Luckily, with so many helpful options available to you, there’s no real reason why your furry best friend can’t lead a healthy and happy life.

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Disclaimer

All information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace your veterinarian's advice.
Jen Smart

Transforming anxious pups with her wealth of hands-on practical experience, and qualified in the following disciplines: Holistic Healing, Canine Anxiety & Therapy, Zoopharmacognosy, and CBD Oil for Animals

Founder of Anxious Canine and proud member of the Complementary Medical Association.

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