Panic attack in dogs comes on suddenly and can be triggered by booming noises such as the sharp sound of gun shots, fireworks or even rumbling thunder. The fight or flight instinct kicks in big-time, but since fighting an invisible entity is not possible, some dogs will panic and blindly run for survival. For dogs who are protected within a fenced yard or confined inside a building, there is nowhere for them to go. So they turn all of that “flight” energy into outward detrimental behavior or they internalize it, causing severe shaking, whining, panting, and raised heart rate.
No one really understands why some dogs experience these panic attacks and others show no signs of anxiety during the same circumstances. In a home of two or more dogs, one may sleep right through a powerful thunderstorm, while another dog has a panic attack and seems to be totally lost within its fear.
If you have adopted a rescued dog, its previous history may be unattainable. It could have included some type of incident that caused a deathly fear of certain situations or abrasive sounds. If only they could tell us. On second thought, I’m not sure I would want to know. Anyway, you may never know the reason behind the panic, but it’s really not as important 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 believe we really understand why a number of people suffer from panic attacks and yet others don’t. Fortunately for us, humans are able to seek out guidance to help us conquer our anxieties.
Dogs don’t have any methods or dealing with an anxiety or panic attack. They have no means of working through it or of understanding how to overcome this panic they are experiencing.
That is where we, as their caretakers, must intervene and find methods to help overcome 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 during a panic attack. Your dog is reacting to something he doesn’t understand. By punishing him you will 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 has undergone some obedience dog training will have an advantage over an untrained dog in that your trained dog may be able to be distracted from its fear somewhat by obedience commands. This is not always the case with extreme anxiety, because it does seem to dominate any previous training, but with mild cases of panic attack, distraction with obedience work may help.
Sedatives are one option for calming a panic attack in dogs. This is not a method I would recommend because it doesn’t solve the problem. 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 slow down your dog’s reactions yet not calm the panic within. He will still experience the distress caused by the noise or other stimulant without being able to do anything about it. If you have tried other options that have failed and decide to use a sedative, please do some research on the side effects of the specific sedative you will be using.
The ultimate goal is to help your dog defeat its terror and get through a nerve wracking event without the anxiety that has plagued him in the past.
Another tool 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 is a snugly fitting shirt that exerts deep touch pressure on pressure points to soothe a dog during stress. It is similar to the swaddling of an infant to help it feel secure. This does not work for every dog or every stressful situation, but it may help many dogs. Some are helped immediately, others might take several times of using the anxiety wrap to slowly lessen the extreme panic they have experienced so many times.
One other option for helping your dog to get over its extreme fear is by gradually exposing it to the very thing that terrifies it, such as rolling thunder. You would begin with a tape recording of thunder. Play it at a very low level, offering your dog treats, to play ball, to dance around and have fun. Your dog will learn to associate fun things with the noise it has previously deemed terrifying. Increase the stimulation gradually, but not until your dog has accepted each level with no signs of anxiety.
There are a number of options to work through a panic attack in dogs. There really is no reason to simply watch your dog deal with the terror it feels. It may take some research, seeking advice from trainers and an abundance of patience, but it will be worth it on that day when you are in the middle of a thunderstorm and your dog is lying peacefully on its bed.