A worried look on a dog’s face can understandably cause concern for a pet parent. But do dogs actually worry and, if so, what can make them feel this way?
Let’s explore potential reasons why a dog looks worried, plus steps you can take to help your canine companion feel better.
Do Dogs Worry?
Dogs experience many of the same emotions that people do, including worry and anxiety. In fact, a recent study found that 72.5 percent of dogs displayed various types of anxiety-related behaviors (1). Dogs are also very good at sensing the emotions of those around them and often reflect that same emotion back. So don’t be surprised if you’re feeling a little anxious and you find that your dog starts pacing or following you around.
Actions aren’t the only way dogs show they are worried. A dog uses body language to express their feelings. Pet parents can look at the position of their dog’s tail or ears, body posture, and other clues to assess how their dog is feeling. Frightened or worried dogs may tuck their tail between their legs, hold their ears back, divert their eyes away from you, and whimper. A stressed dog’s entire posture is tense and withdrawn instead of relaxed and happy.
Why Does My Dog Look Worried? 10 Potential Reasons
If you are concerned about a worried dog, here are 10 potential reasons for your pup’s uneasy expression:
Anxiety, fear, or stress
Dogs who are experiencing anxiety, fear, and stress often have a worried demeanor. These feelings may stem from being separated from their pet parent for long periods of time, hearing unfamiliar noises, traveling to new places, or being around unfamiliar people. Pet parents may notice their dogs pacing, constantly licking their fur, and panting or drooling excessively as a result of the stress.
Big life event
Any changes within a dog’s environment can trigger a sense of worry. A new baby, a relocation, tension within the household, or a death in the family can all impact a dog’s emotions.
Dogs who have underlying health issues often look depressed or worried because they are not feeling well, even if they display no other symptoms. Various types of medical conditions can negatively impact a dog’s demeanor, and a veterinarian can run tests to figure out a cause. Medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism in senior dogs, can also lead to changes in facial expression and appearance.
Dogs experiencing pain have trouble doing normal activities. As a result, they may show signs of distress. Joint pain from osteoarthritis is a very common issue, especially in senior dogs, that can lead to a worried dog or stressed appearance. Veterinarians typically recommend a combination of treatments to alleviate pain and improve mobility in dogs with arthritis. This includes appropriate pain medications for dogs, such as Galliprant, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) for canine osteoarthritis pain and inflammation relief.
As dogs age, they experience changes within their bodies like people do. Senior dogs may display worried expressions as they navigate vision loss, confusion from changes that affect brain function, or effects of disease. Conditions like cognitive dysfunction (dementia) may lead senior dogs to feel disoriented, bump into objects, or just not feel like themselves. Senior dogs may also experience changes in their muscles and tissues, which can alter their facial expression. All of these age-related changes can result in a worried or sad looking dog.
Dogs can sense emotions from the people around them. If a pet parent seems worried, dogs can sense this and may then appear concerned. Likewise, if a pet parent is feeling anxious, dogs will often become stressed and nervous as a result (2).
Dogs who have been abused or neglected may appear worried because they are wary of people. Likewise, some dogs who have been relinquished to shelters may harbor fears of abandonment and find it difficult to trust again. This can make dogs look frightened or sad.
Some breeds, such as Basset Hounds, may seem worried simply because of their natural facial characteristics, such as wrinkles brows and “hound dog” eyes. This can make it difficult to discern whether there is a true underlying issue or if it is just the natural appearance of the dog. In breeds where these facial expressions are normal, a worried look is often not a cause for concern. However, if other abnormal behaviors or concerning symptoms are also present, pet parents should bring their dogs to the veterinarian.
A pet parent may think they have a worried dog when the dog is really just bored. If dogs do not get enough stimulation throughout the day from exercise and play, they can often look sad. Dogs need mental and physical stimulation, which can be provided through puzzle toys, long walks, or socialization.
Dogs are incredibly smart. If a dog sees that their pet parent cuddles them and provides extra love when they act or look a certain way, the dog will catch on and repeat that behavior. In these instances, there is nothing actually worrying the dog—they just enjoy the attention.
How to Help a Worried Dog
If your dog looks worried, try to identify what’s causing their unusual behavior. Think about whether there have been any changes in the home or anything that can trigger anxiety in your dog’s current environment. Take note of any other symptoms that may be present and whether the worried dog appearance is constant or triggered by certain events.
If you are unsure what is making your dog worried, take them to the veterinarian for a checkup. This is especially true if your dog is experiencing other troublesome symptoms, such as limping, not eating or drinking, vomiting, hiding, or having accidents in the house. These can be signs of an underlying medical issue that needs to be addressed.
Veterinarians will recommend treatment options based on what is causing a dog’s worried appearance. If a dog is experiencing anxiety, a sedative may be prescribed to help the dog relax. As mentioned, some dogs who appeared worried are actually bored and may benefit from more stimulation through increased exercise and play. If a dog is showing signs of arthritis, your veterinarian may prescribe appropriate pain medications, such as Galliprant. A dog arthritis treatment plan can help your canine companion return to their relaxed and happy self.
Your veterinarian can work with you to choose a treatment option that is right for your pet. Unfortunately, if left untreated, worry in dogs can lead to problematic behaviors, such as aggression and self-mutilation. That’s why it is important to mention any concerning symptoms to your dog’s veterinarian right away.
Worried Dog: Other Tips and Advice
It is understandable to feel concerned when your dog looks worried. However, because dogs are able to feel the emotions of those around them, it is important to remain relaxed and calm. There are various reasons why a dog may feel worried or stressed. Some causes of a worried dog are nothing to worry about, while others require a correct diagnosis and treatment. A visit to the veterinarian can help rule out any underlying health issues and identify what is making your dog worried. Once a cause is identified, your veterinarian can provide some helpful tips to get your dog feeling like themselves again.