Curing Anxiety in Dogs – How realistic is this?
I have just come home last week from attending a veterinary conference. There was a behaviour stream, and that’s where I spent most of my time because I LOVE helping anxious pets move to greater calm and ease. Curing anxiety in dogs is possible. Some res[pond better than others, but in nearly all cases you can help them a hell of a lot.
There were a stack of amazing speakers, professors, veterinary behaviour certified specialists, and several other vets who are in the middle of their behaviour residencies.
Anxiety is a fear of something that might happen- something that the animal perceives as dangerous or life-threatening (even if it’s not dangerous at all). Anxiety is profoundly painful mentally, emotionally, and even physically.
I learned a lot.
Can Anxiety in Dogs Be Cured?
The answer is yes and no.
I have a much deeper appreciation of just how complex anxiety is. It’s rare for an anxious animal have only one kind of anxiety condition or syndrome. Many have what are called co-morbid conditions. This means that they have several different anxiety issues active, not just one.
Not only that, there are often underlying issues that are either causing the anxiety problems or making existing anxiety predilections or conditions worse. Undiagnosed pain is a big one here – but there are also some metabolic diseases and other conditions that can a problem. If you are unaware of underlying issues, treatment for anxiety may not work well, or at all.
Here’s a big take-home: Every anxious animal needs to have a thorough workup with your vet to check for undiagnosed pain or other medical problems that may be contributing factors.
Anxiety is complex, and it nearly always takes at least some experimentation with different interventions and medicines before you hit on the best combination. Every case of anxiety is unique, so the treatment plan needs to be tailor-made, and also flexible and adaptable over time.
It usually takes quite some time to help anxious animals. It’s rare to have profound improvements in less than 3-6 months, and it can take years of careful care before you get really good outcomes. And some animals will get to a lot better place, but still need an ongoing treatment plan to give them the best possible quality of life.
It’s rare that these anxious animals won’t see good improvement if you do the right things.
Curing Anxiety: Here’s What You Need To Do To Help Your Anxious Dog (and other animals)
The first step is a clear assessment. Your vet can help you with getting very clear and precise around a) What the problems are (symptoms like destructive behaviour, reactivity etc), b) what the diagnosis is (what anxiety conditions and/or syndromes are affecting your animal), and c) a prognosis (some idea of how well this animal is likely to respond to treatment).
You may work with other pet wellness professionals and trainers etc, but you MUST have a vet on board, preferably one with experience and expertise in behaviour problems.
The second step is to create an anxiety treatment plan for your animal.
This needs four parts.
Part 1: Environmental modification
This involves reducing the anxious animal’s exposure to triggers (fear-inducing stimuli) as much as is possible.
Part 2: Behaviour modification
This involves using positive reinforcement training to carefully and slowly desensitise and counter-condition the anxious animal. I also use therapeutic touch to create behaviour modification in anxious animals with good success.
Part 3: Medication
This involves using medicines – both prescription and complementary/alternative, to change the animal’s brain chemistry, and help calm them. It’s a good idea to take bloods to check liver and kidney function before using medications. Many animals, especially in more severe cases, will get the best outcomes with the right medications.
Part 4: Monitoring
Then you need to carefully track how your animal responds, keeping a journal, revisiting your vet and other support team members, and adjusting the interventions and treatments as needed.
Well – it is, and it isn’t. The process is clear, but it can be all kinds of complicated, and you nearly always have some backwards steps and readjustments needed along the way. It takes devotion, dedication, and commitment to get the best outcomes for your anxious animals.
If you want to know more of how to help your anxious animals, I’d love to help.
I’ll be hosting a whole dog anxiety summit at the start of September, with 20 speakers – world-leading experts: holistic veterinarians, a certified veterinary behaviour specialist, dog trainers, alternative and complementary practitioners (energy healers, animal communicators, flower essences, and a stack more. Watch your inbox for the invite!
Here’s a link to the live video that goes with this: https://youtu.be/DTIRdH2fQ04