Dog hiding under blankets as a result of a panic attack

Key takeaway

Dogs can have panic attacks in response to stress or due to a behavioral disorder. To soothe a dog having a panic attack, stay calm and try to distract them by playing with them, giving them a toy, or taking them for a walk.

If you’re wondering if dogs can have panic attacks, the answer is yes. It’s possible for your dog to experience a panic attack, whether it’s triggered by stress or a behavioral disorder. Panic attacks can be a scary situation for both you and your dog—while your dog feels extremely overwhelmed, you may not know how to react and soothe them.

As a pet owner, you want the best for your dog’s health and well-being. Since panic attacks can raise your dog’s stress levels and negatively impact your own life, it’s crucial to find a solution to the problem right away. Luckily, you have several treatment options at your disposal.

For those wondering whether dogs can get anxiety attacks, you’re in the right place. Below, we take a look at the symptoms of dog panic attacks, in addition to reviewing potential causes and treatment strategies. To learn more about dogs that can have panic attacks, read this article from top to bottom. Or, if you’re interested in a particular section, use the links below to navigate to any part of the article.

Symptoms of Panic Attacks in Dogs

In order to get treatment for panic attacks in your dog, you must first recognize the signs. After all, it’s important to be able to identify the line between a panic attack and a little bit of fear or excitement in your dog.

Panic attack symptoms in dogs

So how can you tell if your dog’s having a panic attack? Here are some of the most common symptoms that dogs display when experiencing anxiety attacks1:

  • Unusual panting
  • Aimless pacing
  • Trembling
  • Hiding
  • Excessive salivation
  • Attention-seeking behavior
  • Jumping onto owner
  • Digging and other destructive behaviors
  • Defecating or urinating indoors despite potty training
  • Vocalization (i.e. barking or howling)

Sometimes it may be hard to tell when your dog’s having a panic attack, even if you’re familiar with the symptoms. This is especially true if your dog doesn’t have a history of panic attacks, but is just now beginning to display symptoms of anxiety.

If you’re not sure whether your dog’s having a panic attack but you find their behavior unusual, don’t hesitate to record them while they’re in this state. You might see the signs when you’re with your pet, like when you return home from the work day, or these episodes may occur while you’re away. An in-home video camera can be a useful tool to help you understand what goes on with your pet while you’re gone. You can show this footage to your vet and they’ll likely be able to tell you if your dog was having a panic attack. If they were, your vet can help you come up with a treatment plan for your dog’s anxiety.

Keep in mind, many health problems can present similarly to a panic attack. Having your vet rule out other health conditions like seizures, fainting, or hypertension can ensure your pet is getting the treatment and care they need.

Causes of Panic Attacks in Dogs

Fearful dog experiencing panic attack

Dogs may experience panic attacks for a number of reasons. In many cases, it’s difficult to attribute a dog’s panic attack to one specific cause. The source of a panic attack can be complex in nature, linked to many emotions, memories, triggers, or other stimuli.

In dogs with panic disorders, the panic emerges from an internal place. If a particular event recalls trauma in the dog’s past or provokes a feeling that the dog associates with fear, this can trigger a panic attack. Your dog may link certain external events to internal feelings that make them want to withdraw from a situation entirely.2

Dogs can experience panic attacks as a result of memories, emotions, or specific visual stimuli, such as thunder, dogs, or certain people

In certain cases, triggers for panic attacks may be visual, such as the presence of a particular person or dog. In other instances, the trigger may be auditory, such as the booming of thunder outside. Triggers vary widely and may prove to be specific objects, locations, or situations.1 Additionally, some dogs may experience panic attacks when they feel trapped, whether the fear is valid or not.2

The bottom line is that a diverse range of triggers can spark feelings of panic in your dog and it’s not always easy to tell what provoked their anxiety. In any case, once a dog has one panic attack, he or she is likely to continue experiencing panic attacks in the future. So, regardless of the cause, it’s important to seek out treatment and help your dog overcome their anxiety.

Treatment

Panic attacks in dogs are usually a cry for help and can negatively impact both the well-being of the dog and the owner. Dogs who suffer regular panic attacks will experience increased stress levels, which can lower their quality of life and indicate or lead to future mental and physical health problems. On the other hand, pet owners want to help their dog and, at the same time, prevent any damage to their home or belongings that may occur as a result of a dog’s panic attack. Thus, treatment should be provided as soon as panic attacks begin to occur in your dog.

What to do if your dog is having a panic attack

If your dog’s experiencing a panic attack, it can be intimidating to help in the moment. Many people don’t know how to react or what steps they should take to soothe their pet. The first step in soothing your dog is staying calm in the face of their anxiety. If possible, you should try distracting them with toys, play with them, take them for a walk, or practice obedience exercises and reward them with treats.1 As always, consider your dog’s unique personality and needs when they’re experiencing a panic attack — some dogs may benefit from being left alone when they’re feeling heightened anxiety.

Puppy playing with a ball

While soothing your anxious dog in the moment can be helpful for both you and your dog, long-term treatment may be required to prevent future panic attacks. The best long-term treatment strategy for your dog may depend on what’s triggering their panic attacks. For instance, if your dog experiences panic attacks when he or she feels trapped, you may have to find an alternative way to contain your dog other than a crate or cage. Or, they may be having panic attacks due to separation anxiety or some other stimuli, like stormy weather, flight traffic, or a firework display. Ultimately, it’s best to check with your vet to see if referral to a veterinary behaviorist is recommended.

For more generalized anxiety, a three-prong treatment strategy may prove useful. This involves identifying and preventing a reaction to the trigger(s), stopping any panic attack as soon as it takes place, and increasing your dog’s tolerance for the relevant trigger(s). In order to achieve this, behavioral adjustment strategies will typically be paired with medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), alprazolam, or gabapentin.2 Remember that it’s essential to consult with your vet to determine if medication is appropriate for your dog.

Dog Panic Attacks: Frequently Asked Questions

What is canine panic disorder?

Canine panic disorder is a condition where dogs exhibit extreme responses to internal or external stimuli. The trigger for this anxiety may involve sight, smell, sound, people, places, or events. This disorder is distinct from a simple phobia in that the panic a dog feels is triggered internally, perhaps due to a certain memory or perception. This means the dog can have panic attacks even if a specific trigger isn’t physically present.2

Are some breeds predisposed to anxiety or behavioral disorders?

It’s hard to definitively say whether some dog breeds experience more panic attacks than others. However, a recent study from Finland took a look at the prevalence of canine anxiety across a range of breeds. It found that miniature schnauzers exhibited especially high levels of aggression and fear towards strangers and other dogs. On the other hand, lagotto romagnolos exhibited especially high levels of noise sensitivity, social fear, and aggressive behavior.3 Ultimately, adequate socialization between 3 and 14 weeks of age can make a big impact on a dog’s long-term anxieties and fears.

What should I do if my dog is having a panic attack?

If your dog is having a panic attack, stay calm. You may be able to soothe your dog by providing them with a distraction. For instance, you might bring out one of their favorite toys, play with them, take them for a walk, or practice obedience exercises where you reward them with treats.1 In some cases, this can help occupy their mind on something other than raw panic, however, pet owners shouldn’t force anything. If your dog doesn’t seem soothed by a particular distraction, it’s ok to let them be.


Final Notes

Every pet owner wants the absolute best for their dog. However, the unfortunate reality is that if your dog is experiencing panic attacks, it can negatively impact their quality of life. Panic attacks in dogs can be debilitating and may lead to soiling in the house or other destructive behaviors. Therefore, for the sake of both you and your dog, it’s best to seek treatment immediately if your dog begins to experience panic attacks.

If you’re eager to get treatment for your dog’s panic attacks, contact a vet. Using Dutch, you can quickly set up an online consultation with a highly-qualified vet who can attend to all of your dog’s needs. The vets we work with can review your dog’s symptoms, reach a diagnosis, design a personalized treatment plan, and provide ongoing care. Dutch is also the only pet telemedicine company that facilitates the delivery of medication directly to your home.

Use Dutch to schedule an online consultation today. Working with us, you can access premium pet care from the comfort of your own home.

Dr. Evans is the Clinical Director of Dutch and the owner of Coastal Animal Hospital.

References

  1. Sung, Wailani. “Can Dogs Have Panic Attacks?” PetMD, PetMD, 8 Jan. 2020, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/behavioral/can-dogs-have-panic-attacks.
  2. Overall, Karen. “Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats.” Elsevier. 2013.
  3. Salonen, Milla, et al. “Prevalence, Comorbidity, and Breed Differences in Canine Anxiety in 13,700 Finnish Pet Dogs.” Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group UK, 5 Mar. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7058607/