Dogs can experience stress in much the same way that humans do. No, they don’t worry about meeting deadlines, paying bills, or fighting traffic but the canine world has its own stressors. Pets can suffer from depression, separation anxiety, loneliness, boredom, frustration, noise intolerance, fear of other animals or humans, fear of owner’s anger, and uncertainties in new life situations such as new home, new family, or new family member. Strays often have the stress of hunger, illness or injury, cold or heat, feeling lost, and fear of danger and unkind humans. Even after the stressors have been removed, the effects of this stress can stay for a long time. Let’s take a look at the signs of stress in dogs and how you can help reduce it.
Signs of Stress in Dogs
Stress causes the release of adrenaline and other chemicals within the dog’s body which elevates blood sugar levels and blood pressure and increases the workload of the heart and lungs. As the body quickly funnels all energy toward the “fight or flight” response, blood vessels constrict and other systems, such as digestive and immune are inhibited. Levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, climb and may remain elevated for a long time, even after the stressors are removed. Signs of stress may include:
- Panting (may lead to increased thirst)
- Dark eyes due to pupil dilation
- Urine marking
- Difficulties or relapse in housetraining
- Loss of appetite
- Destructive chewing
- Atypical aggression
The body is not equipped to handle the ‘fight or flight’ response long term. Unresolved stress can lead to behavioral problems and health problems.
If you’ve recently moved, had a new addition to the family, adopted a rescued dog or anything else that could cause stress in your dog’s life, there are ways to help him overcome his unpleasant feelings.
- Keep surroundings calm until he feels better
- Offer extra attention – studies show that gentle human touch lowers blood pressure and heart rate in dogs
- Provide soothing music – recent studies indicate that certain music such as harp notes calms dogs and other animals
- Provide chew toys – this is great stress relief, much like eating, smoking and nail-biting provide stress relief for some humans
- Provide a den or ‘safe place’ where he can retreat – this should be a place where nothing bad ever happens, a place where he feels secure
- Provide daily exercise – a nice walk or game of fetch can be one of the best stress busters
- Give your dog a daily massage – work out muscle stiffness and induce relaxation
- Offer extra kindness and patience – remember he can’t help his feelings
- Take him to the veterinarian – he may need medications or a checkup for hidden illness
Remember, the stress and symptoms are very real for your dog. Hopefully, canine separation anxiety, aggression, urine marking, digging, and diarrhea may improve with these stress relief tips.