Why is being stressed bad for my dog?
Stress can have several negative effects on the body and overall welfare for your pet, including changes to the gut flora. Studies have found that when a pet is stressed they will release certain hormones, which in turn, cause changes to the bacteria normally found in the gut. These bacteria produce by-products, which can lead to your pet feeling more anxious. This can result in stress diarrhea for your pet. If not deal with it can lead to a vicious cycle of stress causing gut changes, which in turn leaves your pet more stressed. Stress can be difficult to recognizing in pets, as the symptoms seen often vary pet to pet. Some symptoms could be subtle, such as yawning, whereas others could be more obvious such as stress diarrhea. It is important to recognize the symptoms early and discuss with your veterinarian to prevent negative changes within the body. Studies have found that 17% of dogs suffer some degree of separation anxiety. Some of the other triggers for stress could include:
Top 10 Stress Triggers for Dogs:
- Novelty — exposure to new items, new people, new animals, etc.
- Loud noises — fireworks, thunderstorms, etc.
- Changes in housing — moving to a new home, boarding, etc.
- Changes in household members — new baby, new pet, loss of pet or human, house-guests, etc.
- Changes in household routine — new job schedule, kids returning to school, holidays, etc.
- Punitive training methods — shock collars, yelling, hitting, etc.
- Invasion of personal space — disruption when resting, hugging, kissing, forcibly restraining, etc.
- Lack of outlets for normal breed behaviors — herding, running, retrieving, etc.
- Separation from human family members — separation anxiety, etc.
- Poor (strained) relationships with other household members (pets or humans).
Top 10 Signs of Stress in Dogs
- Nose/lip licking
- Reduced or absent appetite
- Tail lowered or tucked
- Ears pulled or pinned back
- Cowering/crouched body posture and/or hiding
- Increased vocalizations – whining, howling, barking
**Other symptoms could include: hyper salivation (drooling), self directed grooming (barbering), wide eyes, aggression, fleeing, eating feces.
Strategies for Stress Management may Include:
- Safety first: Take steps to ensure the safety of all involved.
a. This may include secure enclosures, segregation, supervision, etc.
i. A dog that tries to run away or escape during a stress trigger should be in a secure location and, ideally, supervised.
ii. A dog that exhibits an aggressive stress response should be physically segregated from the target of the aggression.
- Advise against punishment to any dog showing signs of stress.
a. Not only is punishing a stressed or anxious animal inhumane, it likely will increase the dog’s stress.
- Identify and avoid – remove or minimize the stress trigger.
a. While full avoidance of stress triggers is ideal, it is often not feasible. For example, one cannot avoid thunderstorms.
b. When avoidance is impossible, minimize the stressful trigger via environmental modification.
i. If a dog is stressed by thunderstorms, the dog can be moved to an internal room in the home and white background noise can be played.
ii. If children stress a dog, avoid taking the dog to locations where children are likely to be encountered, such as playgrounds or schools. If a child is unexpectedly encountered, one can remove the dog from the situation or increase the distance from the child to minimize the dog’s stress.
- Initiate a Behavioral Modification Program.
a. The two most common strategies for behavioral modification are Systematic Desensitization and Counterconditioning
i. Systematic Desensitization: This is the process of reducing the dog’s reactivity to a trigger stimulus (e.g., a stress trigger) via a gradual escalation of exposure to the trigger stimulus. By starting the exposure at a very low level and gradually increasing the intensity, the dog can acclimate to the trigger.
ii. Counterconditioning: This is a process of conditioning the dog to feel the opposite emotional state in the presence of the trigger stimulus (i.e. if they currently feel stress then the opposite emotional state is feeling relaxed). This is often accomplished by pairing exposure to the trigger stimulus with something fabulous, like food or toys, and is often done in conjunction with systematic desensitization.
- Consider adding in products or activities to reduce stress
a. Diets: e.g. Hill’s® Prescription Diet® i/d® Stress, Royal Canin Calm
b. Pheromones sprays or diffusers– e.g. Adaptil
c. Gentle pressure body wraps e.g. Thundershirt
d. Drug therapies – your veterinarian can advise what would be best for your pet, based on their history
e. Supplements – e.g. NutriCalm, BioCalm, Zylkene
f. Certain therapeutic modalities, such as acupuncture or touch therapy, may help reduce stress in certain pets.
g . Regular exercise may contribute to overall stress reduction.
Reference: Dr Jacqueline Neilson, DVM, DACVB