Have an Anxious Dog? Study Seeks Clues in Canine Brains

THURSDAY, March 16, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Like humans, some dogs suffer from anxiety. They might show fear or excitability toward strangers. Loud noises might result in "accidents." They may get destructive when you leave home.

The cause of their distress could lie in their brain makeup, researchers from Ghent University in Belgium say.

For the study, published March 15 in PLOS ONE, researchersYangfeng Xu and Emma Christiaen recruited 25 healthy dogs and 13 anxious dogs. They then used a type of noninvasive brain imaging called fMRI.

The researchers discovered the anxious dogs had different features in their brains, with stronger connections between a component of the brain known as the amygdala and other regions of the anxiety network. The amygdala is responsible for emotions and behavior, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Although animals, including rodents, are often studied to aid in understanding anxiety disorders, the investigators said the dogs' larger brain and bigger cortex could aid research into neural networks associated with anxiety.

The researchers looked at the resting state of dogs with and without anxiety, comparing network metrics and connectivity between the groups.

With the resting-state fMRI, the study team could see that functional connections between the amygdala and other parts of the anxiety circuit, particularly the hippocampus, were stronger than normal in anxious dogs. Certain other measurements known as global and local efficiency were also higher in the amygdala in those anxious dogs.

The dogs who exhibited fear and anxiety towards strangers were more likely to have brains showing abnormal network metrics in the amygdala.

These findings and future studies may help scientists better understand human anxiety disorders, the authors said in a journal news release. This type of research also may aid the development of more personalized and effective therapies, they noted.

More information

The Humane Society of the United States has tips for soothing a dog's separation anxiety.

SOURCE: PLOS One, news release, March 15, 2023

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