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Majority of dogs suffer from anxiety, study finds

General fear found to cause anxiety in 29 per cent of dogs

Chelsea Ritschel
Wednesday 11 March 2020 20:31 GMT
Majority of dogs have anxiety, study finds (Stock)
Majority of dogs have anxiety, study finds (Stock)

The life of a dog may seem carefree, but according to new research, the animals are often dealing with anxiety.

The struggles of being a dog were discovered through a study conducted by the University of Helsinki in Finland, which found that a majority of the pets exhibit anxious traits.

According to researchers, who studied the behaviours of more than 13,000 pet dogs in Finland, 72.5 per cent of the pups exhibit traits such as noise sensitivity, fearfulness, fear of surfaces and heights, inattention/impulsivity, compulsion, separation-related behaviour, or aggression.

To understand how dogs experience anxiety, researchers asked pet owners to fill out an online questionnaire.

After analysing the 13,715 responses from owners of 264 dog breeds, including Bernese Mountain Dog, Labrador Retriever, Spanish Water Dog, Border Collie, researchers found the most common anxiety-related behaviour was noise sensitivity, with 32 per cent of dogs exhibiting the trait.

According to the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, fireworks are frequently the trigger for the behaviour, with the explosions causing fear in 26 per cent of the dogs.

General fearfulness was also common among pet dogs, with the trait affecting 29 per cent of canines in the study.

“Specifically, 17 per cent of dogs showed fear of other dogs, 15 per cent fear of strangers, and 11 per cent fear of novel situations,” the authors wrote.

Separation-related behaviour and aggression were found to be the least common traits, with prevalences of five per cent and 14 per cent respectively.

According to the researchers, gender did have a slight impact on anxiety, with male dogs found to be more often aggressive and hyperactive/impulsive, while female dogs were more often fearful.

Age also played a part in the findings, with prevalence of noise sensitivity and fear of heights found to increase as the dogs got older.

Breed impacts anxiety traits as well, with Spanish water dogs, Shetland sheepdogs, and mixed breed dogs most commonly displaying fearfulness, while fear of heights was most common in rough collie and mixed breed dogs, according to the study.

From the findings, researchers have hypothesised that genetic makeup plays a large part in the predisposition to different types of anxiety, according to Medical News Today.

“Behaviour has a major genetic component,” the researchers wrote, adding that “[s]ome genomic areas and loci are associated with problematic behaviour, including compulsion, fear, and noise sensitivity.”

To decrease canine anxieties, which can impair welfare, researchers suggest one solution could be selecting non-anxious animals for breeding - while changes to living environment could help pets currently living with anxiety.

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