When we hear the word, “cancer,” we’re sent into an immediate panic. Our heart starts beating so hard it feels like it’s going to beat right out of our chest. We get light-headed. We feel like the world is falling out from under us. We turn to our best friend and realize her life is in danger. One of our biggest fears has just been confirmed. How do we go about reducing anxiety in dogs with cancer?
It’s an important topic!
Dogs Don’t Know Cancer, But They Do Know YOU
Our dog who has just been diagnosed, of course, doesn’t understand what cancer is. But, she certainly feels our emotions.
On top of feeling the tornado spinning in our minds, our dog may not be feeling well, adding to her stress. She doesn’t realize she has cancer. But, she does understand you aren’t coping well with the news.
As a result, at least in the first few weeks after the diagnosis, your dog could be more anxious than normal. He might not act like himself. You might notice unusual pacing, excessive panting, and a feeling of uneasiness.
As a Canine Behaviorist, the thing I get asked most is how to reduce a dog’s feelings of anxiety. And, I’d like to share a few tips with you here to help reduce any feelings of anxiety you may be noticing in your dog.
Your Dog Feels Your Emotions
In Chapter 2 of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, Dr. Dressler covers how your emotions affect your dog. His first priority in Full Spectrum cancer care is You — getting your emotions under control. If you’re feeling anxious, you’ll notice it’s harder to prevent your dog from becoming anxious.
If you turn to page 24 of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, you’ll see the techniques Dr. Dressler recommends to help reduce your anxiety. He has incorporated breathing, writing, and venting techniques into this section.
Your dog depends on you for everything. And he needs you now more than ever. If your dog is feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed, their fight against cancer will be more difficult. Dr. Dressler states “a dog who is depressed or stressed is not able to heal as easily as a content and calm dog (pg. 23).”
That’s a strong statement. We want our dogs to get better. We want our dogs to be calm, content, and enjoy their remaining time with us.
Focus on the Positive
Focusing on positive emotions is equally as important to your dog. When you’re in a good mood, your dog will feel more secure. Your good mood puts your dog in a good mood.
Just to give an example… think of a time you have been extremely upset. Your dog was probably next to you. Did he look happy or did he look worried? Now, think of another time you were extremely overjoyed, did your dog look upset or did he look overjoyed with you? Was he pouncing on you with excitement?
Our dogs are happy when we’re happy. In their mind, that’s their life purpose: to make us happy all the time. And if we’re upset, they’re there to cheer us back up and make us feel better.
Make Each Day Count
You will have a deeper bond with your dog too if you and your dog can face the journey ahead together with a positive outlook. Instead of looking at the cancer diagnosis in a negative light continuously worrying when ‘the day’ will come, look at the diagnosis and think, “I really need to make this time count.” Keep a positive mind, and let your dog keep a positive mind, too.
Talk about positive — this book was written to take you by the hand and walk with you on your cancer journey.
Support Is Available
Everyone handles the news differently. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re having a hard time and not able to cope as well as you had hoped. Do the best you can- and don’t be afraid to reach out to someone if you need help.
For those who have a copy of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, there is a Facebook support group available to reach out to others in your situation whenever you need to. It’s a great place to ask questions, share stories, and provide support to other dog guardians.
But you can also talk to a trusted friend who loves dogs, to a pastor, priest, or counselor. Anyone who is skilled at loving conversations can be supportive at this time.
Some folks truly need expert support, and there is no shame in that. This is not the time to be “brave” — reach out to a professional counselor earlier than you think you “need to.”
Natural Anxiety Relievers
Once your emotions are under control, if your dog is still having a hard time with anxiety, there are natural stress relievers you could try.
As a Canine Behaviorist, I recommend DAP for dogs frequently. DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) mimics the pheromones that are sent out by a mother to her puppies. The pheromones act like microscopic calming agents that jump on the puppy to make her feel good. There is a diffuser, which I prefer, and also a collar and a spray.
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The pheromones work similarly in dogs with general anxiety. The DAP is plugged into the wall and releases calming pheromones in the air for our dogs. Our dogs breathe in the pheromones their mother released when they were a puppy. And, they feel calmer and more secure.
I have had great success with this product myself in the cases I have handled. It’s always the first product I recommend because I’ve had so many success stories.
Keep in mind, every case is different. What works for one dog may not work for another. But, it’s a great first step since it’s a natural remedy. Each diffuser vial lasts about 4 weeks. And, you’re able to get refills any time for the plug-in.
I also recommend lavender essential oil to help relieve a dog’s anxiety. Most people’s first thought is, “a flower can calm my dog?” I completely understand the confusion here. It’s odd to think the scent of a flower could relieve stress. But, research has found diffusing lavender can reduce stress in not only our dogs, but for us, too.
The Bottom Line on Reducing Anxiety
Before you can expect your dog to be stress-free, you should get a handle on your own emotions. Do your best to get rid of the bad and amplify the good. Once you have conquered your own anxiety, you can then move on to reducing your dog’s anxiety.
Anxiety can be caused by a number of different reasons in dogs even if they are healthy, such as separation anxiety, storm or noise phobias, a change in their routine, a change in the household, or other factors.
In the case of dog cancer, the cause of their anxiety could simply be sensing your emotions. That’s why the first step is getting your stress under control. If you are still noticing signs of anxiety in your dog after your own emotions have calmed, that’s when you can begin learning what triggers your dog’s anxiety and how you can help.
And remember — don’t beat yourself up. That’s only going to make it worse! 🙂
Amber L. Drake has been working with dogs for over 10 years. Throughout this time, she has served as a Canine Behaviorist and Canine Nutritionist working with dogs throughout the United States. She has worked with private clients, rescue organizations, shelter organizations and corporations. She has also been an Adjunct Instructor of Biology at a local community college teaching Animal Sciences for the past seven years and Kaplan University for the past two years.
In addition to experience in the field, she has earned a Doctor of Education (ABD), a Master of Arts in Education and a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She has completed coursework in Pre-Veterinary Science at Cornell University, Veterinary Technology at Penn Foster and Biochemistry at UC Berkeley. Drake is currently finishing a second Master’s Degree with Kaplan University.
She is continuously enrolling in additional courses, seminars and conferences to remain up-to-date in all dog-related topics. She has a desire to share her passion, knowledge and experiences with others.