How To Treat Anxiety In Older Dogs Naturally
Weather it’s generalized anxiety, separation anxiety, anxiety caused by lack of bladder and bowel control, anxiety due to failing senses or stranger anxiety, your can offer your older dog some natural relief with dietary changes, natural pheromones, soothing music, grooming and massage, essential oils, supplements, established routines and more.
Every dog has its own unique personality. Quite like people, as they grow old, dogs too show behavioral changes. These changes may include lethargy, restlessness or a loss of appetite. Before you can blame aging for these symptoms, be sure to consult with a veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical condition.
Once you are assured that your dog is well, you need to consider what is making it anxious. Patience and understanding with an older dog’s behavioral issues are very important to remember.
How Do I Know that My Older Dog Has Anxiety?
Animals can display symptoms of anxiety in many different ways. These may include a change in appetite, lethargy and restless behavior. Physical symptoms may include trembling, excessive licking, panting, biting itself and pacing about. The animal may need to urinate more frequently than usual, and may also turn aggressive.
Some older dogs are unable to tolerate periods of separation from their pet parents and may howl. When it is time for you to leave for work they may seem agitated or may become particularly subdued. Clearly, there are no specific symptoms that are displayed by all dogs when they are anxious. However, most pet owners will be able to identify when their older dogs display unusual behavior.
What Causes Anxiety in Older Dogs?
You may wonder why your dog, who seemed perfectly adjusted and happy a few months ago has become anxious. To understand this, you should realize that dogs do not age in the same manner as us. In fact, they age rapidly. The average lifespan for a dog is about ten to thirteen years.
In the winter of their lives, people tend to become more anxious about big and small things alike. Similarly, your dog may also display anxious behavior even if you are unable to identify a stressor. One of the most common causes of anxiety in older dogs is their deteriorating senses. They do not function as sharply as they did when they were younger.
Your dog’s sense of smell, sight and hearing may be affected. And this could make it insecure and uncomfortable. It may sleep for longer periods than it did before, and may not wish to go out as often. Sometimes pet parents say that their dog just seems sad. With its senses not working optimally, your pet depends on you for reassurance. In many ways, you are its security blanket, and when you are around, it feels comforted.
As a dog ages, its internal organs may be affected. The body may not efficiently produce the hormones that deal with stress. And this adds to the anxiety it experiences. Muscles and ligaments may be affected, as would the bladder and bowels. Older dogs like to keep to their routines, and a sudden change may also upset them and cause anxiety.
What are the Various Types of Anxieties in Older Dogs?
There are several types of anxieties that may affect your older dog. And to resolve them, you will first need to understand what causes the anxiety. The stress may be generalized or may be caused by a specific situation like the pet parent leaving the home for extended periods of time, like for work.
The most common types of anxiety for older dogs include:
- Generalized Anxiety
- Separation Anxiety
- Anxiety Caused by Lack of Bladder and Bowel Control
- Anxiety Due to Failing Senses
- Stranger Anxiety
Dealing with Generalized Anxiety
Generalized anxiety is displayed in the manner in which the animal behaves. There may not be a specific cause for the anxiety. Your pet may pace about restlessly, or it may lick or bite itself incessantly. It may also become clingy or may show a drastic change in its sleeping and eating patterns. Sometimes these symptoms may come on suddenly or over a period of time.
Dogs enjoy and thrive on a dependable routine. A predictable timetable makes them feel secure. In order to treat anxiety in older dogs naturally, it is a good idea to follow a set routine with regard to your pet’s eating, sleeping, playing time. Do not move the dog’s bed and toys around. The same goes for the furniture and traffic paths in your home.
Handling Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is typically caused when you have to leave your pet at home and go to work or out for the evening. The dog may begin to tremble, pace or whine as it recognizes signs of your impending departure. It may urinate or defecate inside the house. When a pet parent is away from home, some dogs may bark or whine incessantly or they may turn to chewing and gnawing on things you would prefer it didn’t, such as furniture, shoes and even the walls (yes, this actually happens).
Separation anxiety stems from the worry that the pet owner may not return. It may also be brought on by a routine that you may follow before you leave the house. For instance, your dog may begin to feel anxious when you put on your shoes and pick up your laptop bag and car keys. Altering this routine and spending a little time with your beloved dog is likely to may it feel better. Add in a few extra minutes to take your dog out for a short walk, and then when you come back, help the animal settle down before you leave home.
Some pet parents leave the radio or TV on or play music, on a low volume, so that the animal will not feel alone. They also like to ensure that the dog is comfortably settled on its bed and has its toys. Like many other pet owners, if you too are considering natural treatments for older dog anxiety, you will find anxiety calming shirts or coats to be useful. They swaddle the pet quite like one would wrap a baby to offer comfort. The gentle pressure that the coat offers, calms the animal and makes it feel secure.
Anxiety Caused by Lack of Bladder and Bowel Control
Often older dogs are unable to control their bladder and bowel movements, like they could when they were younger. This causes anxiety. In addition, urinating or defecating in the house upsets them further, as they are old enough to understand that it upsets their owners. This situation can be resolved by making a few changes to your daily routine. Of course, your pet will need to go out more often, so you may also consider hiring a dog walker to take your pet out when you are away or installing a pet door, or setting up an indoor, artificial grass pee area.
It is also recommended that you consult the veterinarian. Incontinence could be a symptom of an existing medical condition that requires medication. If needed, you could also resort to using a doggy diaper, as long as wearing one does not upset your pet.
And finally, and most importantly, it is imperative that you keep your cool if the dog has urinated and defecated in the house. At this point in the dog’s life they are not just breaking the rules and they will need more understanding and comfort. If you get angry, your dog is likely to become more anxious.
Anxiety Due to Failing Senses
Dogs are intelligent and perceptive animals. They have an acute sense of hearing, sight and smell. When their senses are no longer as sharp as they used to be, they tend to get nervous. You will have to pay a little extra attention to the manner in which your dog behaves to understand what makes it nervous.
If you find that its sight has dwindled, make sure that you are in its line of sight when you approach it or speak to it. If your home has stairs, you may consider installing a safety gate that will ensure that your pet is safe, and will also make it feel secure. You could install night lights in the hallways. This way your dog will comfortable walking around the house despite its failing night vision.
As a dog ages it may not be as comfortable dealing with strangers as it once was. This issue can be dealt with easily, by ensuring that strangers do not approach your dog. Instead, you should allow your dog to decide if it wishes to approach and interact with strangers.
If you are going away on work or on vacation, it is best to avoid leaving the dog at a kennel. You may instead wish to ask a relative or friend, that the dog is familiar with, to come stay with it. Keeping the dog in it’s recognized surroundings and routine will help ease it’s anxiety.
How Can I Calm My Dog’s Anxiety Naturally?
With age it is normal for dogs to show some amount of anxiety. You may like to consider natural treatments for older dog anxiety that will make it feel secure.
Veterinary researchers have found that dietary changes may also help a dog deal with anxiety.
Supplements known to calm animals naturally include:
- Melatonin, a hormone
- Zylkene, a milk protein
- Omega 3 fatty acids, found in fish
Melatonin is a naturally occurring, calming hormone that make it effective in soothing anxious dogs. Melatonin used for humans is usually safe for dogs as well, but be sure to check with your vet and the ingredients label. Some contain xylitol which is highly toxic to dogs.
Zylkene is useful for reducing the anxiety in dogs. Zylkene is derived from casein, a type of protein often found in the milk of mammals. According to a study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, “alpha-casozepine (Zylkene) should be considered an option by the veterinary surgeon for the biological management of anxiety beside the compulsory behavior modifications.”
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
You may want to add a nutritional supplement that adds omega 3 fatty acids to your dog’s diet. By making this minor change to the dietary intake, pet owners have found that symptoms caused by anxiety diminished. A study by Dr. Ragen McGowan, PhD of Nestlé Purina Research, found “from both a behavioral and physiological standpoint, increased intake of fish oil had a calming effect on anxious dogs.” In Dr. Ragen McGowan’s study, 87% of the anxious Labradors given fish oil showed a reduction in anxiety.
Probiotics are another dietary option that could help reduce anxiety in dogs. Like omega-3s, probiotics offer many benefits to your dog’s health beyond anxiety relief, including improving digestion and boosting their immune system. Be careful about purchasing probiotics for pets, because in most cases, probiotic formulas developed for humans aren’t appropriate for dogs. Dogs have unique strains of bacteria. Further research by Dr. Ragan McGowan has shown that Bifidobacterium longum is effective in reducing anxiety in dogs.
Another dietary issue to consider is your dog’s overall nutritional needs. Don’t forget that dogs are carnivores and the addition of grains, potatoes, and other carbs to popular pet foods is a relatively new addition to the species’ diet and may be adversely affecting your dog. Dogs are some of the most resilient animals, so they can still survive on foods they were necessarily meant to eat – but that doesn’t mean they should be eating it. Along with other changes in their diet, you should consider alternative diets such as a homemade diet, a raw diet or super premium foods.
If your dog has digestive issues, the veterinarian would be able to recommend products and a diet that may offer relief. You may consider different types of dog foods especially designed for older dogs. Reading a few product reviews may also reveal how other dogs with similar symptoms may have benefited from a change in diet.
A dog’s body normally secretes certain hormones that help it deal with stress in an effective manner. As the dog ages, these hormones may not be secreted as smoothly and regularly as they once were. You may consider opting for a collar, spray or air diffuser that contains natural pheromones that calm the animal. Such products have to be used regularly and do not offer a onetime fix to the issue.
Music is capable of soothing animals just like in humans. Research by the Scottish SPCA with the University of Glasgow indicates that playing soothing, soft music can relax your older dog. Animals responded positively to reggae and soft rock played at a low volume. It would be a good idea to observe your dog’s response to different kinds of music, before you choose what you wish to play for it. When you are outside the house, the music will provide a comforting setting for your dog.
You may want to try this music, especially made to soothe anxiety in dogs: 9 Hours of Relaxing Dog music, plus a bonus book on relaxing dogs naturally. It comes with a risk-free 60 day guarantee so if it isn’t the best solution to soothing your pet’s anxiety, then you can return it and try something else.
Grooming and Massage
The time you spend grooming your dog is a special time for both of you. Just the simple act of brushing the coat, relaxes the animal and soothes it. It is a unique opportunity to bond with your pet. It will also allow you to spot any skin abrasions or lesions caused by excessive licking.
There is a reason why dogs love their ears and top of their heads rubbed. These are pressure points that relax the animal. Their feet are also sensitive and can be massaged. Spending fifteen to twenty minutes massaging and petting your dog will go a long way in alleviating anxiety and stress.
Keeping a Routine
As mentioned before, it is a good idea to follow a set routine with regard to your pet’s eating, sleeping, playing time. Do not move the dog’s bed and toys around. The same goes for the furniture and traffic paths in your home. The more aware your dog is about their surroundings, the more comfortable they feel.
Anxiety calming shirts, vests or coats
You may find anxiety calming shirts, vests or coats to be useful. As mentioned above, they swaddle the pet like a baby to offer comfort. The gentle pressure that the wrap offers, calms the animal and makes it feel secure. Gentle pressure is said to release chemicals called endorphins that promote a sense of well-being in animals.
Natural treatments for older dog anxiety can include the sparing use of essential oils. Certain essential oils such as lavender are known to reduce stress in pets. You can put a drop on the corner of your dog’s blanket or coat. Your veterinarian may also recommend other essential oils that may be beneficial for the symptoms your dog displays. Do store the oils carefully and safely. And remember that animals are more sensitive to the fragrance of the oils than humans.
To treat anxiety in older dogs naturally, you will need to make choices that work best for your pet. There is no one sure shot answer to this issue. You will have to consider your dog’s behavior and accordingly make choices.
Keeping to a regular schedule and routine offers animals, especially older ones, comfort and security. Furthermore, based on their diminishing senses you can take steps to ensure that they are comfortable in their surroundings. Your pet needs you to be a little patient and understanding of its aging body. If you reassure it and let it know that it is loved, it is likely to be happier and more confident in its golden years.
This content is not intended as a substitute for professional, medical advice from your veterinarian. Please be sure to consult your dog’s veterinarian.
Studying pet nutrition and health has always been a passion of mine. When my pets started aging, I realized that nutrition for older dogs and cats was something I needed to understand better, so in an effort to learn and share what I have learned, I wrote two books about natural, holistic diets for senior dogs and senior cats.