Stress is part of life, be it humans or dogs. In fact, stress is more common in dogs than you may think.
Stress in dogs can have a variety of causes. Among the most common are some kind of trauma, change in environment, physical restraint, confinement, change of routine, noise, boredom, lack of stimulation, separation and unwanted interactions, such as with overly aggressive people or other dogs.
Some other stress triggers are punishment-based training methods and lack of space to express breed-related behaviors.
Chronic stress in particular can affect your pet’s overall health and quality of life.
A 2010 study published in Applied Animal Behavior Science suggests that the stress of living with a fear or anxiety disorder can have negative effects on health and lifespan in domestic dogs.
As you know how stress can make you feel and affect your mental and physical health, you certainly want to reduce your furry friend’s stress level as well. Remember that dogs communicate their emotional state, including stress, through body language and behavior.
By knowing the signs, you can help alleviate your dog’s stress and help him feel at ease.
Here are the top 10 signs of stress and anxiety in dogs.
1. Shaking or Shivering
It’s common for a dog to shiver playfully, but involuntary shaking or shivering may be a sign of something other than excitement and can indicate stress.
Unlike the happy shakes that your dog shows when he sees a person he loves, this automatic response to stress may be accompanied by other signs, too. Your furry friend may hide, growl or display signs of aggression as well.
If your dog is not wet or cold, in pain or ill, and he is shaking, shivering or trembling, try to help calm him and make him feel that his environment is safe.
2. Excessive Shedding
A little bit of shedding is normal, but excessive shedding can be a sign of stress as well as some type of skin problem.
When under stress, your dog may experience an unusually high amount of hair loss. This happens due to the effects of stress hormones that are released into the bloodstream.
It is common to notice increased shedding while visiting a new dog park or the veterinary clinic, as your pet becomes overly anxious.
Shedding may also be combined with incessant shaking.
3. Increased Yawning and Sleeping
If you are accustomed to your dog’s sleeping schedule, you may notice that your pet sleeps more when he feels stressed.
Increased yawning and sleeping are signs of stress. When experiencing stress, the body enters fight-or-flight mode and causes the adrenal cortex to release stress hormones that put the body on alert. The point is to energize the body, but soon the body becomes fatigued and your pet ends up sleeping more.
Also, a stressful yawn will seem more prolonged and intense than a sleepy yawn.
Always consult your veterinarian if your dog is sleeping more than usual or seems overly lethargic.
4. Pinned-Back Ears
Your pet’s ear positioning can say a lot about whether he is feeling stressed. In fact, dogs use their ears to express emotions, including stress and anxiety.
Ears that are pinned back tightly against the head are a clear sign that your dog is having feelings of uneasiness.
However, as each breed of dog has different types of ears, you need to keep a close eye on their ear positioning to understand what’s normal and what’s unusual. But most dogs will draw their ears back and low when under stress. It may be difficult to notice these signs in dogs with floppy ears; you can still look closely at the base of the ears for movement.
5. Excessive Whining or Barking
It is normal for dogs to bark for various reasons, but excessive whining or barking, whether inside or outside the house, can be a sign of stress or anxiety.
Excessive barking due to stress is often related to confinement, frustration, lack of exercise or separation distress.
When under stress, many dogs may howl or bark a lot. If you think it is related to stress, contact your veterinarian.
If your dog suffers from separation distress, your vet can also recommend a behavioral management program to deal with the problem.
Just like you may prefer to be left alone when you are stressed, the same can happen with your pet. Many breeds of dogs are known to prefer some alone time when under stress.
If your dog is friendly in nature and suddenly isolating himself from other pets or people, it is likely a sign of anxiety or stress. It has been found that dogs will hide to get away from a stressful situation or loud noises like storms or fireworks.
A stressed dog will frequently display avoidance behaviors by hiding behind furniture and turning away from their owners.
Take your pet to your veterinarian to help identify the cause of this change in behavior.
7. Panting for No Reason
Panting is normal when your dog tries to cool off because he is hot or after intense physical exercise.
But if your dog is panting for no apparent reason, possibly with his ears pinned back and low, then it indicates a high stress level. Along with panting, some dogs seem to be constantly licking things.
Panting can also be associated with chronic illnesses, heat stroke, poisoning or other problems, so abnormal panting should never be taken lightly. Consult your vet if you see this occurring.
8. Tucked Tail
Closely observe the positioning of your dog’s tail to see whether he is experiencing stress. Your dog’s tail can change from its normal positions and take poses that indicate stress.
For instance, a tucked tail can indicate different emotions in dogs, including stress, fear, aggression and anxiety.
In fact, a tail tucked between the legs is a classic fear-signal and should not be ignored. Feeling afraid can lead to potentially dangerous situations like fear-biting.
Also, a tail held straight down or simply wagging at the tip can indicate stress.
9. Digestive Problems
While digestive issues in pets are most commonly attributed to disease or food intolerance, problems like diarrhea and constipation can be triggered by anxiety or stress.
During stress, your pet’s body releases an excessive amount of norepinephrine, the fight-or-flight hormone. This hormone can alter the gut bacteria and interfere with gastrointestinal tract motility, which in turn causes problems like diarrhea or constipation.
Moreover, if your dog has an accident in the house, it further adds to his stress level as well as yours.
10. Reduced Appetite
Even though dogs instinctively search out food wherever they are, a stressed dog can lose his normally healthy appetite or become picky about his food preferences.
Dogs may become agitated when under stress and avoid eating normally until they feel secure or at ease again. Also, gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea and constipation can make your dog lose interest in food.
It is important to consult your veterinarian if your pet suddenly loses interest in food or stops eating altogether.
Other Signs of Stress:
Excessive drooling, aggression toward people or other animals, excessive sniffing, dilated pupils (pronounced whites), intense stare, rapid eye blinking, scratching at walls and floors, not playing as usual, coughing, sneezing and avoiding eye contact are also signs of stress in dogs.
Tips to Reduce Stress in Dogs:
- Identify your dog’s stress triggers and avoid them when possible. For example, if your dog doesn’t do well in crowded situations, avoid taking him to such places.
- A regular routine is important for dogs, just like it is for young children. A change in routine can cause stress in some dogs.
- Spend more time with your dog to reduce stress. Take time to play as well as exercise with your dog regularly.
- Dogs experience less stress when they know what’s expected of them. So, set the house rules and be firm yet gentle about any disobedience.
- Avoid punishing your dog when he is stressed.
- Create a safe zone in your home for your dog, where he can escape high-stress events like noisy guests and parties.
- Choose a high-quality dog food. A healthy, well-balanced diet can reduce the risk of anxiety and stress in dogs.
- Leave an article of clothing or blanket with your scent on it next to your dog whenever you need to go out.
- Play calm, soothing music before a possible stressor occurs.
- Use massage to calm an anxious pet.
- If you notice sudden behavior changes in your pet, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.