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Like us, our dogs can experience intense stress and fear. It could be loud sounds, the presence of strangers, and other triggers that could potentially make your dog bonkers. But what if your pooch panics out of nothing? Why is my dog freaking out for no reason? This can be scary for pet owners, but there’s always an explanation behind every weird canine behavior.
Dogs can experience panic attacks, too. The same with humans, they experience increased heart rate and they lose their logic around things. Although it may seem like an isolated case, it could be a tell-tale sign that your dog is experiencing something more serious.
What is a panic attack among canines?
A panic attack is an episode on which your dog becomes extremely nervous accompanied by shaking, drooling, or even aggression. Each dog will show symptoms of panic attack differently, so you must keep an eye on your pooch’s habits and behavior.
Some dogs will experience panic attacks in rare accounts, but some would have recurring episodes. In this case, you’d need to consult a vet to rule out possible health conditions causing the problem.
Also, a lot of things can trigger your dog’s panic attack. You must watch out for these triggers and act right away so you can prevent any potential harm that may happen along the way.
Some panic attacks are serious, while others are not. Nevertheless, you should be ready for whatever situation that may occur.
Fear vs. anxiety vs. phobia
Many pet owners often mistake their dog’s panic attack on anxiety or phobia. As much as fear and anxiety could be potential triggers, these are different things as well as a phobia.
Fear is a normal reaction among dogs as well as other human beings. It’s part of the fight or flight response which can grow to fear anxiety. Dogs will usually keep an eye on possible threats and react differently based on their personality and perceived fears.
Still, most causes of fear and anxiety are learned and can be fixed with proper training and desensitization. Beware, though, because fear can deepen into phobia if not addressed early on.
On the other hand, dogs may also experience separation anxiety or generalized anxiety. Some dog breeds that have the innate desire to socialize will develop separation anxiety if left for long hours habitually. Again, like fears, this can be unlearned and dampened through crate training and revamping your routines.
Usually, separation anxiety kicks in once the owner exits the door. However, with generalized anxiety, the dog will experience continuous anxiety. It doesn’t have highs or lows on which the canine walks around always anticipating something bad or fearsome is going to happen.
Phobia is a more intense condition on which your dog really ‘loses’ it when it sees, hears, or feels a trigger. This is usually persistent and quite difficult to treat. Just imagine a human with a phobia on something.
Contrary to some beliefs, exposing your doggo to their phobia trigger will not fix the problem. In fact, it will only make matters worse. The phobia will deepen into extreme fear which can branch out to other negative behavior.
Usually, phobias develop when a dog experiences a remarkable fear or pain when confronted with the trigger. For example, your dog’s phobia of insects could be due to that one time when they almost died due to the sting.
Signs that your dog is experiencing a panic attack
A panic attack always shows visible signs. However, it can occur with no warning – it could happen in the dog park, at home, or in someone else’s house. You should catch the first signs so you can carry your dog away from the crowd before the situation takes a sudden turn.
The following are some of the signs of a looming panic attack:
*Trembling or shaking
*Excessive barking, something that’s unusual
*Whining or whimpering
*Aggression including biting or chewing its own limbs
*Incontinence or accidents
*Digging in a fit of panic
Take note that some of these symptoms can also denote a different behavioral problem or even a health condition. If you have suspicions, it’s best to consult a vet right away.
What causes the behavior?
Many things cause a panic attack among canines. Still, the following are the most common that we have observed in doggos:
If you always come home to shredded stuff, it’s possible that your doggo is experiencing an intense case of SepAnx. Some breeds are more prone to this condition, especially lapdogs and those that are known to be working dogs.
Separation anxiety itself can be caused by many things as well. The most common is being left alone for long or losing a master or playmate. A traumatic life event can also trigger this behavior.
The good thing here is that you can do something about it. Crate training can do wonders for canines with separation anxiety.
Is it your dog’s first time to ride a car or experience a drive-thru car wash? The pooch may be experiencing travel anxiety. All of these things are new to your pooch. The sound of the engine, the people around, and the experience of visiting new places may make your dog nuts.
If you’re bringing your dog to a long trip, it’s best to condition them first. Take them to short drives around the neighborhood and introduce them to new sounds. That way, the pooch will not go crazy once you board them on a plane or carry them on the train.
Isolation is also a major cause of panic attacks. If your dog is used to being stuck in the four corners of your yard, it will likely panic when it meets new people, other canines, and objects.
Remember that a dog shouldn’t be crated for too long. Also, keeping your pet leashed all the time is just fueling their isolation anxiety. This will make your doggo nervous, which will trigger panic attacks when they are exposed to various stimuli.
Loud noises are classic triggers among canines. The New Year’s Eve is personally the worst time for pet owners since fireworks, honking, and other loud sounds are around. And since dogs can hear everything four times louder than we do, just imagine the torment that they are going through.
This will lead to a panic attack that could last for minutes to hours. Some dogs will chew and show aggression if not taken away from the trigger.
If your pet is afraid of loud sounds, it’s best to keep it in a room with someone to accompany them.
The harm of dog panic attacks
Dogs experiencing a panic attack don’t just pose a threat to other people but also themselves. These pooches will chew their limbs or skin as an effort to alleviate their fear. This self-destructive reaction can land your pooch to the vet.
In the same vein, your doggo may bite someone in the midst of a panic attack. This could be taken as aggression, which may put you or your doggo in legal complications.
In this video, Laura and her family have to deal with their dog Scooby’s destructive panic attacks. Dog Training Expert Victoria Stilwell tries to change things up:
Could an illness be the culprit?
If fear, phobia, or anxiety is out of the picture, your pooch may have an underlying condition that’s causing the panic attack.
Remember that some cases of dog seizure could be in the form of aggressive behavior. This sudden bout of a panic attack and aggression is directly due to a health condition that requires immediate medical attention.
If a happy-go-lucky dog suddenly becomes nervous and afraid, you should consider bringing them to the vet. It’s also best to time the episode to help the vet diagnose what’s wrong with your pet.
Aging has something to do with it
Like humans, aging can affect a dog’s behavior and reaction toward various stimuli. Some things that never bothered your pet before may start to be fearsome to them as they grow old.
Senior dogs may start to have panic attacks at night as their sleep cycles get disrupted. Also, an old doggo have poor eyesight so they may perceive an object as a frightening shape.
Also, senior dogs may develop so-called Canine Dysfunction Syndrome. This is equivalent to Alzheimer’s disease among humans. It will make a dog confused out of nothing. If you suddenly find yourself asking, why is my dog freaking out for no reason? It might be time to get your dog checked for this condition.
How to deal with a dog panic attack?
Like panic attacks with humans, reassurance and a comforting presence can make a big difference.
For dogs with fears (not phobias!), it will help to get them desensitized to the trigger. Exposing them to the stimuli and associating it with something good is an excellent start.
You have to take desensitization slowly and carefully to prevent your dog’s fears from becoming a phobia. The key here is to keep cookies raining. Give your pooch lots of treats when it behaves well in the presence of a trigger.
Through the process of desensitization, you can introduce counterconditioning. Once your dog is used to the presence of the trigger, you can now reverse their perception of it. So from tolerance, you’re not going to develop acceptance.
If your dog’s trigger is a human, you can ask that person to give the treat to your pooch. That way, your doggo will realize that the person isn’t someone to fear.
-Controlling the environment
If your dog has a bad case of panic attacks, it’s best to control their environment. Remove any possible triggers while you find ways to deal with the problem. This is also added protection for your doggo, especially if they tend to harm their selves during the attack.
-Asking the vet for a relaxant
Depending on the situation of your dog, the veterinarian may prescribe an FDA-approved relaxant. This is usually given to canines with the worst case of separation anxiety.
If your pooch is given such medication, make sure that you follow the vet’s instructions. Overdose is ugly and it may put your dog’s life at risk.
Obedience training can do wonders on a nervous dog. By teaching the pooch some basic commands like sit, stay, calm down, or leave it, you can distract them from reacting harshly to a trigger. Of course, the reward system never gets old here.
For dogs that have been isolated for long needs to be socialized intensively. This way, you can dampen their nervous tendencies as well as potential aggression.
However, you should note that adult dogs can be more difficult to socialize than pups. It could be challenging, but it’s never impossible no matter how old your doggo is.
Try to introduce your dog to other canines, pet owners, and kids. Still, do this slowly so your pet will not be overwhelmed.
-Exercise and playtime
You should also consider that your doggo is having those panic attacks due to lack of mental and physical stimulation. You should never give your dog the luxury of time to slip into an episode.
With this, you should take the pooch to daily walks and give it enough playtime. By draining the extra energy, your pooch will have a long snooze. This will prevent them from seeing, feeling, or hearing triggers. Pairing this with other tips here should help you manage and minimize the panic attacks.
Why is my dog freaking out for no reason? Upon reading this post, you will have an idea of why your dog is behaving as such. You can try some of our advice, but we strongly recommend that you consult with a vet if the behavior persists.
It’s important to have health conditions ruled out first before you consider training your dog. Also, if you don’t have the knowledge for training, you can tap the help of a professional dog trainer. They can diagnose what’s causing the panic attacks while providing the necessary solutions.