Autumn 2021 True Natural Health Magazine
By Tracey Morrison, Homeopath and Animal Health Practitioner
Over the years I have dealt with a lot of dogs suffering anxiety issues. Some cases have been mild and some more deep seated.
In recent times I have found that there are large numbers of what I deem ‘COVID-19 dogs’ that especially fall into this category. These dogs have never been left alone as their owners have worked from home, at least until now. They have inadequate socialisation skills with other dogs (and with people) and have not experienced activity with the outside world. Now these pups are having to learn to be suddenly left alone, resulting in separation and anxiety becoming even greater issues.
When a dog is extremely anxious, he/she may display irrational behaviour patterns. There are lots of triggers for these conditions. They can be related to fear, abandonment, isolation or environment, and, if not treated early, these issues can become causes of phobia.
In recent years, anxiety has been one of the foremost researched conditions. Some studies have indicated that there may be an identifiable genetic marker present, which activates the gene responsible in some circumstances, though the end result is that there is still no clear causation.
Other experiences may also play a role with anxiety in our pets. Fearful or frightening experiences can become very quickly embedded in their neurological pathways, and their initial reaction to the situation becomes their go-to behaviour. It can be so ingrained that it may act very deeply on a cellular level (for example, PTSD).
Destructive behaviour may also result from this anxiety. When left alone, your dog may chew furniture, scratch at doors, bark incessantly or display other forms of unwanted behaviour. This can sometimes be a release of their anxiety. Physical exertion can also be an outlet for anxiety, becoming a kind of stress-induced manifestation of their inward psyche.
Physical symptoms and gut health may also be related
Anxiety can also cause physiological issues. For example, dry flaky skin, ear problems and associated head shaking, scratching and excessive licking may be an outward projection and symptomatic of the state of their nervous system.
Health and diet may also play a partial role in the manifestation of anxiety related behaviour. When growth of ‘bad’ bacteria gets out of control, your dog is experiencing small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and poor gut health that can lead to numerous health issues. Leaky Gut, for example, may impact on your dog’s wellbeing, causing allergies, hotspots and skin inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, immune disorders, digestive issues and yes, you guessed it, behaviour-related problems such as aggression, excessive whining and separation anxiety.
How can we help?
Training and documenting your dog’s behaviour pattern can be of assistance here. Look for what triggers stress, fear and anxiety for your dog and note them down. Work slowly through these triggers and try to mitigate each separate incident by trying and create a safe zone, taking into account that some issues will be easier to make progress with than others.
Pets that display any kind of anxiety need lots of love and understanding. Conquering these issues slowly in a gradual process can be the most beneficial. Try to make all experiences positive and supportive. In intervals in which you need to leave your pet alone (especially puppies), try to optimise their alone time for a successful outcome, initially leaving them for small amounts of time, even three to five minutes to start with, and gradually building up to longer periods.
When dealing with any pet, with any kind of anxiety, you will need to be patient and have a lot of empathy when trying to encourage stability and change. There are a lot of things that don’t bring about or heighten anxiety, like affection, attention and recognition, although many people will argue that these may be causative. I disagree and would think that supporting their emotional wellbeing can only promote trust and give them confidence to assist in dealing with the stress they need to overcome.
Remember that we are our pet’s guardians and that comes with a responsibility to do the best we can to ensure for them a long and happy life.
Tracey Morrison is the owner of Proactive Pets Pty Ltd. She is a classical homeopath, animal health practitioner, remedial massage therapist and writer and also operates a local doggy day-care centre. Tracey has studied a wide range of natural health modalities for pets, including nutrition, diet and behaviour over the past 20 years. She is based near the beautiful Blue Mountains in Sydney’s west and is passionate about providing healthy alternatives for your pet’s wellbeing.