One of our blog readers recently posted a tough question about a challenging dog behavior, anxiety. Dog anxiety is common enough that I decided the answer warranted a whole blog post, not just a quick answer.
Question: “My Golden retriever is 7 years old. He has skin cancer that has spread. He has major anxiety now. I home school my children and when we use a stapler he is tipping over chairs and tables to hide. We boarded him and our Newf together in a kennel that he is very familiar with, during the holidays (they said he did great). When we picked him, up he was so nervous that he vomited all over my mother in-laws house. If I leave the room, he is scrambling to find me. My question is….is he suffering like this? His level of anxiety is my concern. If he is given anxiety meds he burns right through them unless he is totally out of it!”
Answer: This is such a difficult situation, and I’m so sorry that you and your dog are going through this. It’s obviously hard on you to see him like this, and although this isn’t the same as the type of suffering experienced from pain- yes, I’m sure this is hard on him, also. Here are some things to consider; I do understand that what you can do may be limited by how much your dog is affected by his cancer at this point.
Especially for separation anxiety, the best results are usually achieved by a combination of anti-anxiety medication and behavioral modification exercises. The medication isn’t given to sedate the dog, but to help reduce his anxiety level to the point where he can relax enough to focus on something besides his anxiety. Then you can work with him to help him learn to remain relaxed in formerly anxiety-producing situations.
If your dog is not on a prescription anti-anxiety medication your veterinarian can prescribe the one best for your dog. The most effective medication varies depending on the individual dog and the things that cause the anxiety. Sometimes several different medications or doses need to be tried before we find the best one.
If your dog is already on a prescription anti-anxiety medication, talk with your veterinarian to see if they recommend a change in dose or medication.
In cases of severe anxiety, over the counter remedies usually are not effective. However, if you want to try something at home, you could try Comfort Zone with DAP, which is a room diffuser containing Dog Appeasing Pheromone, which mimics the natural pheromones nursing female dogs give off to calm and comfort their pups. Some dogs with anxiety really respond to it, others not at all.
At the same time, I would recommend you read up on separation anxiety and start beginning some behavior modification exercises. Your veterinarian may be able to help you with this. We have a basic article on separation anxiety and one on dog noise phobias. If your dog is able, increasing his daily exercise may also help to reduce his anxiety level.
I hope this helps, and we wish you and your dog all the best.