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Panic Attacks in Dogs: What To Look Out For


When humans are distressed, we have the ability to communicate our feelings with language and ask for what we need. We also have the ability to meditate on a stressful situation, troubleshoot for a solution, and reason with ourselves. Our canine companions aren’t so fortunate.

Dogs, just like people, can have panic attacks. Learning how to recognize the signs and how to take the appropriate steps to calm your panicked dog can improve your pet’s life and reduce the chances that your dog will experience more panic attacks.

Why Do Dogs Have Panic Attacks?

Dogs don’t quite have the same complex concerns that humans have considering all their bills are always paid and their bowls are always full, but can still experience complex emotional responses. 

Panic attacks are often generalized and don’t have an apparent cause, although dogs prone to panic attacks can have a panic attack as a result of exposure to something distressing or something they’re afraid of, which works them into a heightened emotional state. 

The two do not necessarily need to correlate, as dogs with phobias don’t always have panic attacks and dogs with panic attacks don’t always have phobias.

Here are a few of the most common triggers of panic attacks in dogs:

  • As a response to environmental distress, like thunderstorms
  • They’re traumatized (like dogs adopted from abusive situations)
  • They’re afraid of something, like another animal or a vet trip
  • They’re sensitive to loud sounds (like arguments or music)
  • Sometimes, panic attacks have no trigger

In some cases, you may be able to remove or resolve the trigger for these panic attacks. Sometimes though, you can’t, like with weather-related panic attacks. Generalized or idiopathic panic attacks cannot be avoided or mitigated by changing the dog’s environment.

How To Recognize Panic Attacks in Dogs

Dogs don’t often have silent panic attacks. Panic is a strong motivator, and it’s likely that your dog will respond to their feelings in a noticeable way.

  • Diarrhea or frequently needing to go potty
  • Vomiting or heaving
  • Heavy panting 
  • Excessive whining
  • Digging frantically in the carpet or the dirt
  • Aimlessly pacing
  • Trembling, shivering, or shaking
  • Attempting to hide, often behind furniture or in closet
  • Desperately seeking reassurance from a trusted human companion

It’s likely that you’ll see multiple signs occurring simultaneously. These behaviors can occur for other reasons, so it’s best not to assume that they’re indicative of a panic attack unless your dog has a history of panic attacks. If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms, you should see a veterinarian immediately.

Talk to Your Vet About Potential Panic Attacks

The only way to know for sure that your pet is experiencing panic attacks is to bring your pet to the veterinarian for proper examination. Conditions like separation anxiety, as well as neurological conditions, chronic illness, or less obvious sources of pain can manifest similarly to panic attacks. 

Pets with severe or frequent panic attacks may be prescribed special medication designed to keep those panic attacks under control. These medications may be intended for long-term daily use, or they may be administered to your dog at the first sign of a panic attack. 

Always give medication only as directed by your veterinarian. You may need to disguise meds in a treat to “trick” your dog into taking pills.

Task one person in your household with the task of medicating your dog. Your dog cannot tell someone whether or not they’ve had their medication, which can result in a dog accidentally taking more medication than they should. 

If the responsibility will be shared, have a system. Leaving a specific color “x” or checkmark on the current day of your family’s calendar can help to denote if your dog has received their medication that day. If everyone checks before administering medication, the potential risk of overmedicating your dog is significantly reduced.

Your vet may also recommend specific behavioral therapies for your dog. Your dog might benefit from learning new coping skills or understanding commands and gestures you use when you’re attempting to help them through a panic attack. If your dog’s fear response escalates to a panic attack, behavioral therapy can also work to mitigate this response.

What To Do When Your Dog Is Having a Panic Attack

If you believe your dog is having a panic attack, your first course of action should always be to follow the instructions provided for you by your veterinarian and your dog’s trainer or behavioral specialist. They’ll work together to teach you the proper strategies to manage the situation.

Attempting to take your dog to an emergency vet for a standard panic attack isn’t usually a good idea. Travel can overwhelm your pet and exacerbate the panic attack. It may be dangerous for you to drive with a panicked dog in the car, especially if the dog isn’t in a travel crate. It’s usually best to wait out the situation at home. Your dog will prefer to be in a familiar place. If you have serious concerns, call the vet and ask what you should do. 

When in a panicked state, your canine companions aren’t quite themselves. They may react to your voice or affection in an unusual way. They’re easy to startle and overwhelmed. Don’t approach your dog directly, as your dog may nip or scratch you even if they’re usually gentle and passive. Your dog may need some space. 

If your dog is asking for reassurance or approaching you, you can offer gentle pets or allow your dog to lay with you in your favorite spot. 

In many cases, providing dogs with a stimulating distraction like a fun toy will help. Some dogs may want to run around your fenced back yard to blow off some steam. Some dogs may want to be in a place free from stressful stimuli, like unfamiliar people or loud noises. Let your dog hang out in a quiet, calm room to decompress.

You should never reprimand, punish, or yell at your dog while they’re having a panic attack. This will only make the situation worse. Loud voices or punishments will only increase their level of agitation. 

If your dog is rambunctious and behaving inappropriately in a heightened psychological state, you can avoid your dog entirely if that’s what they seem to prefer, but you should still try and make yourself available for comfort if your dog chooses to approach you. Think about how rough it is from the perspective of your pup — a little empathy and compassion can go a long way in helping your dog through a panic attack.

Preventing Panic Attacks in Dogs

Along with the treatment prescribed by your veterinarian and the instructions given by your dog’s behavioral specialist, you should take extra care when approaching situations that create a panic response in your dog. 
Your dog might panic when you leave, panic when it’s time to get in the car, react negatively to a crate or kennel, or be profoundly affected by loud noises. When you recognize that these triggers may be imminent, taking pre-emptive action to keep your dog calm can help. If your dog is on medication, try to medicate your dog 30 minutes to an hour before a panic-inducing event will occur. 

Providing your dog with their favorite distracting toy or setting up a place for them to feel safe and relax can help. A little bit of forethought can simplify the coming minutes or hours when your dog may otherwise begin to experience the onset of a panic attack.

Learn your dog’s behaviors. Love your dog. Provide overall holistic support for your dog, because they deserve the very best. Those are the ideas that VETCBD Hemp was founded on. 


Common Fears and Phobias in Dogs and How to Help Treat Them | American Kennel Club

6 Tips for Giving Your Dog Pills | American Kennel Club

Separation Anxiety | ASPCA

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