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Can Dogs Suffer Neurosis? (Vet Answer): Causes, Signs & Treatment


May 9, 2023
sad and sick labrador retriever dog


sad and sick labrador retriever dog
Dr. Iulia Mihai Photo

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Dogs can suffer from neurosis, but the cases are quite rare. Neurosis is a mental disorder that involves chronic stress resulting from extreme anxiety and insecurity. Neurotic dogs suffer from functioning deficits.

Neurosis is characterized by anxiety, depression, or distress that is not consistent with your dog’s life circumstances. They can affect your dog’s functioning, but they are not severe enough to make your pet incapacitated. Dogs with neurosis often exhibit aggressive or defensive behavior.

In this article, you will find out what causes neurosis in dogs, which breeds are most prone to it, the main clinical signs, what you can do, and much more.


Causes of Neurosis in Dogs

Neurosis in dogs has multiple causes, such as:

  • Prolonged exposure to severe stressful situations
  • Traumatic or upsetting events
  • Breed (some breeds are more predisposed)
  • Dogs prone to anxiety tend to give birth to neurotic puppies
  • Abusive owners (rescue dogs are more prone to neurosis)
  • Inadequate socialization when your dog is a puppy
  • Hormonal imbalances (such as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism)—dogs can become aggressive and emotionally unstable
  • Pain

Neurosis occurs when dogs are unable to face a particular situation or avoid that situation (for example, fireworks, loud noises, thunder, veterinarians, the mailman, vacuum cleaners, crowds, strangers, abuse from the owner, etc.). These situations are impossible for a dog to predict when and where they will happen next time. Therefore, the dog that faces that stressful situation will not know what to do—it will run, hide, or attack.

In some cases, neurosis is triggered when a hand or arm is raised, and this is most likely due to past traumatic experiences the dog has had.

Dog Anxiety
Image credit: Bogdan Sonjachnyj, Shutterstock

divider-pawNeurotic Dog Breeds

Even though neurosis can occur in any dog breed, some breeds are more prone. Dogs whose owners cannot take care of them properly (they don’t have time to take them out, play with them, or socialize them) can become neurotic because they lack mental and physical stimulation.

Working dogs are usually bred specifically to perform demanding tasks, so can be prone to neurosis if their owners do not exercise them properly. Guard dogs are also more prone to neurosis because, some of the time, their owners do not know how to deal with a dominant dog, and the pet becomes uncontrollable and neurotic.


Few people can give this breed what it needs to develop harmoniously both mentally and physically. For this reason, many Pitbulls become destructive and suffer from separation anxiety.

pitbull puppy in a cage
Image Credit: J.A. Dunbar, Shutterstock

German Shepherd

The German Shepherd is another dog breed that can become neurotic. This usually happens because the owner is not able to meet their needs. In other words, if this breed is not stimulated mentally and physically, they can end up developing a neurosis.

English Cocker Spaniel

Without an adequate amount of exercise, the English Cocker Spaniel is prone to gaining weight. In addition, the inability to run and burn off their energy can have a negative effect on their well-being, and they can become depressed or neurotic.

sad english cocker spaniel dog lying on the floor looking sad
Image Credit: OlgaOvcharenko, Shutterstock


This Japanese dog breed is mainly used for guarding, hunting, tracking, and protection. They have strong personalities, and for this reason, they are not a suitable breed for beginner owners who are not able to meet their basic needs. Without mental and physical stimulation, the Akita can become neurotic and have unwanted behaviors. They are also hypersensitive dogs that do not like to be alone, but with proper training and care, they can be loyal and affectionate dogs.

Border Collie

The Border Collie is a working breed. It is very intelligent and has an energy level above the norm. Precisely because they are extremely energetic, they need plenty of physical exercise to burn off their energy. They can become destructive when bored or left alone. For this reason, they are prone to neurosis and are generally not a suitable breed for beginner owners.

sad and worried border collie dog lying on a wood floor
Image Credit: Elayne Massaini, Shutterstock

Siberian Husky

Huskies are intelligent and energetic dogs with a unique personality. They can become particularly destructive when bored, so they must have an owner who knows how to take care of them. They can be anxious around people and loud noises. If they are not given adequate training, physical exercise, and mental stimulation, they can develop neurosis.

Jack Russell Terrier

The Jack Russell Terrier is an extremely energetic breed but is quite easy to train. They can become destructive if they are not mentally and physically stimulated and as a result, they can become neurotic in the hands of a novice owner.

jack russel terrier on grass
Image Credit: Piqsels


The Beagle is an intelligent, affectionate, and playful hunting breed. It has a high level of energy and, therefore, needs a lot of physical exercise and mental stimulation. They are prone to neurosis, destruction, and howling when they are left alone or when their needs are not met.


Clinical Signs of Neurosis in Dogs

Neurosis in dogs involves five stages, each stage being characterized by new clinical signs:

  1. At first, dogs suffering from neurosis will be indifferent to their environment.
  2. Weak stimuli can cause dogs to respond inappropriately.
  3. Strong and weak stimuli can cause a response of the same intensity as the stimuli.
  4. Strong stimuli cause dogs a strong reaction.
  5. Dogs’ nervous systems gradually return to normal.

Not all stages are a certainty, and some phases may be completely missing. Dogs with a strong nervous system can return to normal almost immediately. The manifestations of nervousness will be different from case to case. As a result, there are three main signs that appear for seemingly no reason:

  • Fear
  • Apathy
  • Aggressive behavior

Other signs of neurosis include:

  • Flatulence
  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constant whining
  • Hiding

divider-dog pawThe 3 Main Signs of Neurosis in Dogs

1. Constant Fear

When your dog shrinks to any sound, no matter how small or at the sight of another animal (bird, dog, butterfly, etc.), it is clear that there is something wrong with them. They will flatten their ears, tuck their tails between their legs, and try to run away from the stressor. Some dogs may also growl, shake, or bark.

Also, fear and panic in dogs are often associated with aggression. A frightened and fearful dog may try to bite people or other animals. Dogs may also exhibit rapid breathing, hypersalivation, or excessive licking or chewing.

This type of manifestation occurs most frequently in dogs adopted from shelters. It can also occur in dogs that are constantly left alone at home. If these dogs’ needs are met, this type of behavior can improve.

2. Apathy

Apathy can be manifested in a couple of ways. Your dog either just sits doing nothing or stares at a fixed point/object. Sometimes apathy can alternate with states of hyperactivity—your dog may play until exhaustion.

jack russell terrier dog on couch looking sad
Image Credit: KAZLOVA IRYNA, Shutterstock

3. Aggressive Behavior

Aggression can be expressed through direct attacks or attempts to dominate. Neurotic dogs may try to bite other people (including the owner) or animals.

divider-dog pawWhat to Do if Your Dog Is Neurotic

To help your neurotic dog, you must first find the cause that triggers their condition. Your dog will need to be well-fed, avoid stressful events, and rest. Also, if the neurosis is caused by the fact that you don’t stay at home much, you must think of a solution to keep them busy and entertained during that time.

You can also find help from dog behavior specialists, or you can try home remedies such as music therapy or aromatherapy.

In the case that these remedies do not work, a visit to the veterinarian can be your salvation. They can prescribe sedative treatment to help your dog get through stressful periods better (fireworks, storms, or other loud noises).

Cute and beautiful beagle dog lying on the exam table at the veterinarian. Two vets examining a sick and scared pet with a stethoscope
Image Credit: Beach Creatives, Shutterstock



Neurosis in dogs is not common, but it can occur. Although breeds such as Beagles, German Shepherds, Akitas, Pitbulls, or Jack Russell Terriers are more prone, neurosis can occur in any breed. The causes of this condition are mainly represented by prolonged exposure to severe stressful situations or traumatic or upsetting events. Clinical signs that owners can observe are fear, apathy, aggression towards people or other pets, excessive licking, hypersalivation, diarrhea, or rapid breathing. As remedies, you can try to eliminate stressors, aromatherapy, music therapy, training with a canine behaviorist, or even sedatives.

Featured Image Credit: My July, Shutterstock

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