The sudden onset of a panic attack in dogs can be triggered by crashing explosions such as thunder, fireworks or gun shots. The instinct of fight or flight kicks in big-time, but since fighting an invisible entity is not possible, some dogs will panic and blindly run for survival. When dogs are fenced in or contained within a house, they have nowhere to run to. So they turn all of that “flight” energy into outward destructive behavior or they internalize it, causing whining,raised blood pressure,excessive panting and trembling.
It is not really understood why many dogs suffer from these panic attacks and others don’t. One dog in a household may sleep through a violent lightening storm, while another dog freaks out and seems to be totally inconsolable.
If you have adopted a rescued dog, its previous history may be unattainable. Your dog may have endured some traumatic incident that caused a debilitating fear of certain situations or loud noises. If only they could communicate with us. Then again, I’m not sure I would want to know. At any rate, the reason behind the panic may never be known, but it’s really not as crucial as helping your dog learn to relax rather than react.
I honestly believe that a panic attack in dogs is much the same as it is in people. I don’t think it is really understood why so many people experience panic attacks but others don’t. However, humans are able to seek out help and put that help to use in conquering our fears.
Dogs can’t help themselves conquer their terror. They don’t know what to do other than react to their instincts telling them they are in grave danger.
That is when it becomes our responsibility to help defeat this panic attack in dogs.
To begin with, I have to emphasize the necessity of not chastising your dog for running away or destroying something in the middle of a panic attack. He is reacting to an internal impulse that may be uncontrollable. By getting mad or yelling at him you will only be adding to the already high level of anxiety your dog is experiencing, possibly escalating any further episodes.
I do believe that a dog who is equipped with some obedience training will have an advantage over an untrained dog in that you may be able to distract your trained dog momentarily with commands. This won’t always work with extreme panic, because some intense anxieties seem to annul any previous training, but distraction through obedience may help with milder cases.
One method of easing your dog’s anxiety is through the use of sedatives. This is not a method I would recommend because it doesn’t fix the irrational behavior. It will only temporarily mask the situation. Your dog will be listless and debilitated for a few hours and each dog may react a little differently to each sedative.
Some sedatives will debilitate the dog, yet will not lessen the terror going on within the dog’s mind. He will still have to endure the distress caused by the noise or other stimulant without being able to escape it. If you have tried other options that have failed and decide to use a sedative, please research the side effects of the specific sedative you will be using.
The ultimate goal is to help your dog overcome its terror and survive a stressful event with a somewhat more peaceful balance of mind.
A less invasive yet effective option for helping overcome a panic attack in dogs is the anxiety wrap. You can find this as the Original Anxiety Wrap and the Thundershirt. The anxiety wrap or body wrap is a snug body shirt that exerts deep touch pressure on pressure points to soothe a dog during stress. Just like swaddling an infant, the wrap helps your dog feel secure. As with anything, the anxiety wrap will not work for every dog or every instance of irrational anxiety a dog may experience, but it may be a great help to many dogs. Some are helped instantly, others might take several times of using the anxiety wrap to gradually minimize the extreme panic they have experienced so many times.
Another possible method of teaching your dog to overcome its irrational anxiety is by gradually re-introducing it to the very thing it is terrified of, such as rolling thunder. You would start this by playing a tape recording of thunder. Play it at a quiet level, encouraging your dog to take treats, to play ball, to just be goofy and happy. This will help your dog to associate happy things with the noise it has previously deemed terrifying. Increase the stimulation gradually, but only after your dog has successfully conquered each level, showing no significant anxiety.
There are many methods to work through a panic attack in dogs. I know you don’t want to helplessly watch your dog deal with the terror it can’t get away from. It will take an amount of research, seeking council from trainers and a LOT of patience, but it will be worth it in the end to suddenly realize you are in the middle of a thunderstorm and your dog is lying peacefully on its bed.