Stress is part of life, whether in humans or dogs. In fact, stress is more common in dogs than you may think.
Dogs are famed for their unshakeable loyalty and a keen sense of protectiveness towards their owners. However, these aren’t the only humanizing traits that endear our four-legged friends to us.
Dogs are known to exhibit a whole range of emotions that we don’t usually associate with animals, and they express these emotions through verbal and physical means.
If you are a dog owner, you would know that bouts of anxiety and stress are no strangers to your canine friend. For anyone invested in the well-being of their pet, it is particularly heartbreaking to watch them struggle with such fears and feelings and not being able to placate them.
For instance, dogs tend to get especially worked up when they are home alone unattended, during a visit to the vet, or even while going for a car ride.
Your dog’s emotional state is more or less reflected through behavioral manifestations. It’s often easy to overlook these subtle indicators and changes as your helpless pet is left reeling with unwanted feelings of unease and stress.
Neglecting your mute companion’s internal struggle regularly can result in long-term damage to your dog’s overall wellness. Thus, it is essential for dog owners to stay abreast of their dog’s emotional state by keeping an eye out for any sign of distress, unease, or anxiety.
Causes of Stress in Dogs
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, an underlying illness, 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 the health and lifespan of domestic dogs.(1)
Just as stress can have negative ramifications for your mental and physical health, the same applies to your furry friend’s internal workings as well. Remember that dogs communicate their emotional state, including stress, through body language and behavior.
Being well-versed with the usual giveaways that are indicative of such internal stress, you can help your dog through this ordeal and help him feel at ease.
Preventing 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 and 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 stressed Dog.
- Create a safe zone in your home for your dog, where he can escape high-stress events such as noisy guests and parties.
- Choose 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 your anxious pet.
- Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. They may be able to diagnose an underlying illness that may be causing your pet’s stress, pinpoint a stress trigger, and offer appropriate treatment, medications, or natural remedies such as pheromones.
How to Tell that Your Dog is Stressed?
Here are 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.(2)
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.
If your dog is not wet or cold, in pain, or ill and is shaking, shivering, or trembling, try to 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 or some type of skin problem (allergy, infection) or an underlying endocrine issue.(3)
When under stress, your dog may experience an unusually high amount of hair loss. This happens due to the effect 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.(4)
Increased yawning and sleeping are signs of stress. When experiencing stress, the body enters the fight-or-flight mode; this 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.(5)
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. 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.(6)
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 to your pet. Many breeds of dogs are known to prefer some alone time when under stress.
If your dog is friendly in nature and is suddenly isolating himself from other pets or people, it is likely a sign of anxiety or stress. It has been found that dogs hide to get away from a stressful situation or loud noises, such as storms and fireworks.
A stressed dog will frequently display avoidance behaviors by hiding behind furniture and turning away from their owners.(3)
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 an intense physical exercise.
However, if your dog is panting for no apparent reason, possibly with his ears pinned back and low, then this indicates a high-stress level. Along with panting, some dogs seem to be constantly licking things.(7)
Panting can also be associated with chronic illnesses, heat stroke, poisoning, and 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.
A tucked tail can indicate different emotions in dogs, including stress, fear, aggression, and anxiety.(3)(8)
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 such as 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 such as 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 such as diarrhea and constipation.(9)
Moreover, accidents in the house further add to his stress level as well as yours.
10. Aggressive Behavior
Unlike most animals that hide to avoid anxious or stressful situations, some dogs tend to exhibit a degree of aggression when encountering such unfavorable circumstances.(2)
This aggressive behavior may be directed towards the owner, veterinarian, or any individual directly interacting with the dog. Moreover, the pet will display some degree of indirect aggression towards other people or animals in their periphery.
In order to anticipate and rule out the possibility of misdirected aggressions during examinations, most vets prefer dogs to be restrained by trained veterinary technicians during examinations, rather than by their owners.
Other Signs of Stress in Dogs
Excessive drooling, excessive sniffing, dilated pupils (pronounced whites), intense stare, rapid eye blinking, scratching at walls and floors, not playing as usual, coughing, sneezing, licking the lips or tail, and avoiding eye contact are also signs of stress in dogs.
- Dreschel NA. The effects of fear and anxiety on health and lifespan in pet dogs. Scientific Report. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0168159110001243. Published May 6, 2010.
- Beerda B, Schilder MB, van JA, de HW, Mol JA. Chronic stress in dogs subjected to social and spatial restriction. I. Behavioral responses. Physiology & Behavior. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10336149. Published April 1999.
- Souza CCFde, Dias DPM, Souza RNde, Medeiros MAde. Use of behavioral and physiological responses for scoring sound sensitivity in dogs. PLOS ONE. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0200618. Published August 1, 2018.
- Romero T, Konno A. Familiarity Bias and Physiological Responses in Contagious Yawning by Dogs Support Link to Empathy. PLoS One. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3737103/. Published August 7, 2013.
- Gilbert-Gregory SE, Stull JW, Rice MR, Herron ME. Effects of trazodone on behavioral signs of stress in hospitalized dogs. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27875082. Published December 1, 2016.
- King C, Smith TJ, Grandin T. Anxiety and impulsivity: Factors associated with premature graying in young dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168159116302775. Published October 11, 2016.
- Hekman JP, Karas AZ, Dreschel NA. Salivary cortisol concentrations and behavior in a population of healthy dogs hospitalized for elective procedures. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3817620/. Published November 2012.
- Ibáñez M, Delgado BA. Anxiety Disorders in Dogs. Research Gate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/221914333_Anxiety_Disorders_in_Dogs. Published August 2011.
- Rakha GMH, Haleem MMA-, Farghali HAM. Prevalence of common canine digestive problems compared with other health problems in teaching veterinary hospital, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Cairo University, Egypt. Veterinary World. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4774851/. Published March 26, 2015.