If you have ever had a dog with anxiety then you will know that there are anxious dogs and then there are ANXIOUS dogs.
Jet is of the latter persuasion, so today I want to talk to you a little bit about life with an anxious dog.
I have dedicated the past 12 years of my life working with Jet on his anxiety and while we have made great strides towards progress, there are still some things that we can’t overcome.
- Jet still has incredible difficulty with leaving me or with me leaving him. Even when left alone with his dad, he will pant, drool, pace, and walk tight circles around his dad until he literally exhausts himself.
- Jet cannot be confined. This stems from his separation anxiety. If he is confined, whether in a kennel for boarding, in a crate at home, or behind a closed door in a room, he will do ANYTHING to get free. This almost always results in injury – cut lips, torn claws, and bleeding paw pads.
So, how do we manage a dog with such severe anxiety?
Well, first we tried behavioral training – conditioning him by picking up keys when we weren’t going out, putting coats on when we weren’t going anywhere, leaving the house for two minutes then coming back in, giving treats when returning, giving busy time treats like frozen peanut butter filled Kongs when leaving…
This didn’t work despite our persistence.
Next, we tried a combination of these behavioral training techniques along with exhaustive exercise. The theory here being that “the tired dog is a happy dog.” For most dogs, particularly puppies, this works very well.
This didn’t work for us.
Then we tried pheromone sprays, pheromone plug-ins, herbal collars and collar discs.
Then we tried calming music.
Then we tried the Thunder Shirt which is more developed for noise phobia, but what the hell, we had nothing to lose at this point.
No luck, but Jet’s dad did provide some great entertainment as he tried to figure out how to put it on Jet.
After this, we tried non-traditional medicine. Calm Shen is a Chinese holistic medicine used frequently in dogs with anxiety.
Not only didn’t this work for us, but it also gave Jet terrible gas.
Following this, we tried the heartbeat dog also known as the Snuggle Puppy.
While the Snuggle Puppy did not help with his separation anxiety, it did help with his noise phobia.
…my dog was afraid of the sound of wind.
So then we tried “calming treats.”
While Jet seemed to thoroughly enjoy them, they did absolutely nothing.
This is the point where we talked to our vet about the one remaining option we had been putting off – prescription medications.
At the time we agreed that Jet’s level of discomfort was to the point where it was necessary to at least try prescription medication.
We started with Clomipramine.
Clomipramine seemed to take the edge off…until Jet’s skin turned blood red and his fur began to fall out.
No brainer – we stopped that right away.
Around a year later, we decided to talk to our new vet at the time about other prescription options.
He mentioned Prozac as an option.
An older drug than many, Prozac had been established for long enough for me to feel more comfortable with its use. We tried it.
Before we could see much of an effect (it need to build up in the system before it becomes truly effective,) Prozac presented us with an issue. Jet began to require more pain medication for his hips. Pain medications and SSRI’s like Prozac don’t mix well.
Pain management was a bigger priority, so once again we talked to our vet. Our final quest for an answer.
Xanax was the answer we were given. As an “in the moment” anti-anxiety medication, it was something we could give when needed without worrying about interactions with pain medication since we could control when he took what. Don’t get me wrong, you shouldn’t be giving both medications at the same time, but you can control when Xanax and Tramadol are in your dog’s system so you can manage dosing.
The problem for us? Xanax took the edge off, but as Jet’s medical needs began to grow, medication interactions became more of a concern.
So, there ended our search.
Jet still suffers from severe separation anxiety. We manage this by never boarding him. We “confine” him by allowing him free reign of part of the house and putting a baby gate on the stairway since he cannot manage the stairs by himself. I leave him as infrequently as possible, but when I do leave, I do so quietly, hoping not to draw his attention. If we’re lucky, that buys us at least a few minutes before the panting and pacing starts.
Do I get frustrated? Sure I do, but I don’t get frustrated at him. I get frustrated that I cannot find an answer for his anxiety, a way to soothe him and take away the fear that must be so paralyzing.
Do I turn down opportunities because of my dog’s anxiety? You bet I do…but that could be because I’m a “crazy dog lady.”