Guest Post: dealing with anxiety and stress in dogs

Dr Riggs discusses something we all face in our lives - stress. As we continue on our discussion of behavioral issues in cats and dogs, Dr Riggs talks about some solutions to the issues you might be facing.

Anxiety is a part of modern life.  We all have stress, or at least perceived stress, in our daily existence.  We work long hours, often not eating right, don’t get enough exercise and sleep poorly.  Many of us ooze stress.  Dogs are very perceptive of our moods.  They are often a mirror of our feelings.  Dogs can feel our moods.  I have worked for years with Canine Companion for Independence service dogs, and I am amazed of how perceptive and intuitive the dogs can be.  They actually anticipate their owner’s needs.  One of these dogs lives in our local hospice, and I can’t tell you the number of times that dog goes to the person and family dealing with the imminent passing.  Dogs feel our pain.  So it is not hard to see why we are seeing more anxiety issues in our pets.

The most common anxiety issues we see are separation anxiety and thunderstorm/noise anxieties.  These can be debilitating to the animals, as well as the owners.  The dogs many times, can be very destructive and often hurt themselves in the process.  I have had client’s dogs that have chewed
through walls, doors, destroyed cages and ripped up carpets.

So what can you do?

I have had good results in about 85% of my cases with Thundershirts and some medications. Thundershirts are light coats that when put on the dog, can dramatically calm the dog.  This concept has been for years used in the care of Autistic children and also the reason the American Indians swaddled their babies. It can be amazing.  The best things is if it does not work for you, it has a 100% money back guarantee.

Many people ask for medication. Just as in humans, medication in rarely the panacea, and behavior counseling often is needed in conjunction with meds.  For years, the number one medication was
acepromazine, a tranquilizer.  The dogs would become sedated and stop whining. The problem is we have found ace does nothing for the anxiety, it just knocks them out, and so they don’t seem to
react outwardly.  A better choice for me has been trazadone, an antidepressant used in people for sleep issues or alprazolam, both of which actually decreases the anxiety.

Some cases can be difficult to manage, and these need a referral to a behaviorist.  A behaviorist is not the same as a trainer.  A behaviorist is a veterinarian who specializes in the biology of behavior problems and is able to dispense medications if needed, but works to find the root cause of the problem.  Trainers are on the other hand, are for teaching your dog to “behave” in situations. 
There are many good trainers out there, but there are also ones that have no formal training.  Electric shock collars should not be used in any training.  They do not train the dogs, they simply break down the dog to obey.  Look at this YouTube video if you think they don’t hurt.

But I digress… we have a great behavior clinic at The OSU Veterinary Medical Center here in Columbus.  They can help you find a behaviorist in your area.

So, don’t work as hard, get some exercise and get to sleep, and do the same for your dog and you just might be surprised on how much happier you both will be.

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Guest Post: dealing with anxiety and stress in dogs

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Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie and Ossa, and cat Franklin. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and cyclist, and enjoys travel and photography.

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