Dog anxiety leading disorder in dogs in 2016
Dog anxiety is probably the most common class of disorders in dogs today.
At the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) Western Australia Division Conference last month, animal behaviour expert, Dr Gaille Perry, talked about recognising and diagnosing anxiety and ways to manage it.
“Stress plays a key role in the development of many anxiety-related conditions. There may be a genetic propensity to develop anxiety, but learning also plays a major part.
“Anxiety is a medical condition and if an owner suspects that their pet is displaying signs of the disorder, they should speak to their veterinarian as soon as possible so that a diagnosis can be made and a treatment plan can begin,” said Dr Perry.
For a veterinarian to accurately diagnose an anxiety disorder, they’ll be relying on the owner to provide essential information about the dog’s behavioural history. This will be followed by a physical exam and possibly some tests such as blood or urine tests, especially if medication forms part of the dog’s treatment plan.
“Owners should note what the problem is, when it started, when it occurs and any other important factors such as daily routine and share this information with their vet. This will help in making a diagnosis.
“Sometimes management changes alone can resolve the issue, but to successfully manage the patient’s behaviour, all triggers for the behaviour must be identified and access to them controlled. Part of good management is also a good routine complete with an enrichment and training program,” she said.
Dr Perry warns that punishment should never be used when training an anxious dog as it only further increases the anxiety and impedes learning of the desired behaviour. She also says that every case is different and if medication is required, the type and dose should be based on the individual needs of each patient.
“Medication is used to improve an imbalance in the animal’s neurochemistry – to normalise the animal. It will not solve the problem, it merely assists us to modify the pet’s behaviour,” Dr Perry said.
Medication can be used over longer periods (six to nine months or more) or in the short term which will work to reduce anxiety quickly during or before events that trigger anxious behaviour.
Dr Perry says that anxiety-related behavioural problems also extend to our feline companions. A common behavioural problem in cats is urine spraying which is an anxiety-related issue and often requires medication and management.
“Again, a thorough history may reveal the triggers. Medication alone will not resolve the issue. Owners need to restrict access to the sprayed areas and learn to identify the precursors to spraying so they can redirect the cat. Cats will require a regular routine and lots of attention and interaction,” Dr Perry said.