Q: Our puggle has panic attacks that come on out of the blue and end just as suddenly. He shakes and tries to get up as high as he can, such as on the back head rest of the couch. He’ll also cower in a corner behind the toilet. During the attack he pants and trembles. The attacks can last anywhere [from] a few minutes to more than an hour. We have given him Tums and when we can get him to take the pills, within a few minutes he’s OK. When these attacks are over, he’s normal but sometimes a little tired. I know I should probably just take him to the vet but he’s so shy I don’t want to put him through the trauma until I know something more about what is going on. Any and all information you can provide would be appreciated greatly.
A: Your puggle sounds like he has some extreme displays of behavior.
First, let’s define terms so that we are all on the same page. When a human or animal is fearful, they have a normal and real reaction to a potentially dangerous stimuli (lightning strike causes fear). It can then turn into anxiety, which is the anticipatory feeling that the stimuli might occur (thunder may mean lightning which may mean a lightning strike).
Panic is when there is either sudden and uncontrollable fear or anxiety that accompanies behavior and appears “unthinking.” Your puggle is definitely fearful but I do not have enough information about how anxious he is during an event and if he is able to still “think” during one of these situations.
This is something that is assessed through more questions. For example, my first question would be what occurs during these episodes? Is the weather normal or abnormal? Is it morning or evening? How long do they last if you do not intervene and how often do they occur on a monthly or weekly basis?
Is your dog responsive to touching and being talked to? If he knows some cued behaviors/commands, can he respond to them at the start of these events or at any time during them?
The answers to these questions and many more are things that your veterinarian will want to know. The easiest way to answer them is to keep a log of episodes. It helps to gather data for an intervention by a professional and for a veterinarian to use to as an aide in establishing a diagnosis.
I think it is interesting that Tums helps stop an event in its tracks. However, have you ever given something else at the start of an event — even something benign, such as a treat? Did it alter the course of the episode? If you have not tried giving other things, I would ask you to do so and log its effect.
Although it appears that Tums helps, if nothing else were ever tried then we can only say eating something stopped the behavior, not that eating Tums stops the problem.
Now let’s say that the Tums turns out to be the only thing that stops the events from progressing. I would say that the behavior appears to be gastrointestinal in origin and needs a further diagnostic work-up. I know that your dog is very nervous of the veterinary clinic and it is viewed as a scary place. However, it is likely the best place to start trying to get answers to the bigger, scarier events that happen more often in his life than his health care visits.
I also feel that if a dog is so scared of the vet that it reduces his ability to receive health care, that should be listed as a diagnosis itself and addressed by the local practitioner.
There are many interventions available today to help with such a problem. When used properly, they allow fearful animals to receive the health care they need to live a healthy and long life.
The Thundershirt is a compression outfit that can cause a reduction in anxiety in some animals and can show results in under an hour. There are many supplements available as well. These are non-drug options such as Zylkene or Anxitane, which can help in typically a few weeks.
Pheromones can be very beneficial and are chemical substances that are only perceived by members of the species that produce it, such as Adaptil for dogs. Finally there are pre-medications your veterinarian can use that are drugs that can be given orally or injected and yield short-acting relaxation and reduction in anxiety.
All these are options that can be explored in helping your dog be better able to receive the health care he will likely need to determine what next to do to help his behavior at home.
— Elizabeth Feltes, DVM
The Behavior Clinic;
Animal Behavior of
Northeast Ohio, LLC