We all have our rough days where were stressed out. And were not alone. Just like us, pets can easily get stressed out by the little things in life. Some may be so small, you might not even be aware it’s an issue. Constant stress and anxiety are obviously not good for your pet, and can even make them sick. However, don’t let that worry you!
Figuring out what makes them stressed and eliminating that from your pet’s life will help control their stress and anxiety. If you’re having a hard time finding what could be stressing your pup out, take a look at the following guide on what stress is, what could be triggering it, and how you can eliminate it from your furry friend’s life.
What is Stress?
As pet owners, we have an obligation to understand stress and its impact, so we can take the necessary steps to minimize it in our dogs’ lives. Stress is a commonly used word for feelings of strain or pressure. Like us, our dogs can feel afraid, hyper, edgy, or irritable. The “wrong” kind of stress or chronic stress can have harmful effects on your dog’s behavior, health, and overall well-being. Stress has the ability to make a dog ill, suppress their immune system, and cause aggressive or anxious behaviors.
However, certain levels of stress are normal and even necessary for survival. The “positive” stress allows an organism to utilize energy in a positive manner and helps the brain to development new capabilities.
On the other hand, when stress becomes negative this may become a vicious cycle, with stress contributing to even more stress. This results in negative behaviors and illnesses. Furthermore, how the individual responds to the distress is often affected by inherited genes or the type of environment the dog is in.
Signs of Stress
Since our pets can become stressed just like us, we understand how it feels and certainly want to help alleviate it. However, dogs don’t voice their feelings or throw tantrum, so how can we know that their stressed? The signs of canine stress can be very subtle. In fact, some behaviors mimic normal antics, so here are a few helpful clues that may indicate your dog is stressed.
Pacing or Shaking:
If you notice your dog constantly shaking, this is a result of a stressful situation. For example, dogs can show this behavior when visiting the veterinarian. They could also start to pace around the exam or waiting room.
Whining or Barking:
Vocalization is normal canine behavior, but if it is intensified your dog may be under stress. If your dog is scared or tense, they may whine or bark to get your attention.
Yawning, Drooling, and Licking:
Many people think yawning is just about being tired or bored. However, dogs can also yawn when they are stressed. A stressful yawn is more prolonged and intense than a sleepy yawn. Dogs may also drool and lick excessively when nervous.
Changes in Eyes and Ears:
If your pup is stressed, you may notice dilated pupils and rapid blinking. Their eyes may open really wide, giving them a startled appearance. Their ears might be pinned back against the head as well.
Changes in Body Posture:
Dogs normally even their weight on all four legs. If your dog is shifting their weight to his rear legs, they may be experiencing stress. Dogs may also tuck their tails or become rigid.
Panting can be a sign of all sorts of feelings such as hot, excited, or stressed. So, if your dog is panting even though they were not on a walk or in the heat of summer, they may be stressed.
Changes in Bodily Functions:
Nervous dogs can feel a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. Refusal of food and loss of bowel function are also stress indicators.
Hiding or Escape Behavior:
Some tense dogs will hide behind their owners or nudge them to escape the situation. They might also show behaviors such as digging or circling, or may hide behind a tree or parked car.
How Stress Affects Dogs
If your dog suffers from chronic stress or has had stress for a long time, you might start noticing changes in their health or behavior. Some of these issues can lead to serious problems if not addressed quickly or properly. Here are some ways stress can affect your dog.
Loss of Appetite
Any type of stress can cause dogs to lose interest in their food or feel too sick to eat. Prolonged stress can cause weight loss from not eating enough. This can be very dangerous for dogs and their medical health. By not eating, they are getting the nutrients they need on a daily basis to survive.
In addition, some dogs suffering from stress may start chewing or even eating non-food objects. This can include aggressively chewing toys, doors, window sills, or even themselves to the point of injury.
Weakened Immune System
When dogs are stressed, the body released a hormone, cortisol, as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism. Cortisol helps the body prepare itself for a stressful event. However, if your dog is constantly stressed, cortisol can also cause problems, such as a weak immune system. It’s important to minimize dogs stress so it doesn’t become a major problem.
When dogs are experiencing stress, they can also feel adrenaline, which increases heart rate and blood pressure. Adrenaline can also decrease blood flow to the intestines and stomach, which can result in diarrhea in many dogs.
Most dogs who are scared or stressed will run away, but if there is no escape route, they might get aggressive to defend themselves. They might also freeze for a few extra moments while deciding they want to fight or flee. Dogs might also fidget as a reaction to stress. This is a way dogs cope with stress to work off their excess energy without running away or attacking something.
10 Things That Can Stress Out Your Pet
1. Outside Animals and People
Dogs love sitting by windows to observe the wildlife, but neighborhood cats, dogs, or people coming by the window could stress out your dog. If your dog shows signs of stress when looking out the window, close the blinds on busy windows. If possible, provide a quieter window where there are less people and animals.
2. Sharing with Other Dogs
Dogs can get stressed when other pets eat their food or take their toys, especially if one is hogging most of it. One pet might also intimidate the other, causing one to hide. You can ease tension by providing each pet with their own food dish or give them many toy options to play with.
3. Trips to the Vet
Trips to the vet can be quite traumatic for dogs, and you’ve probably noticed your dog acting differently when you go. There are ways, however, to make your pet feel less stressed and more comfortable when visiting the vet.
This is where treats come in, and we mean LOTS of treats! When you arrive, give them treats. When you get inside, give them treats. In the exam room? Give them treats. This will help them feel like everything is OK and that they are getting rewarded for being there.
4. Inconsistent Schedule
Pets love a regular schedule throughout the day. Feeding your pet at inconsistent times can stress them out, as can spending erratic amounts of time with you. Keep a regular schedule for feeding and playing time and stick with it. We know this can be challenging with every day events popping up, but try getting help from a pet sitter or a doggie day care if your time is limited.
5. Home Rearranging
While it can be fun to change up your home décor, it can actually be stressful for your pet. Changes in their surroundings can create anxiety for dogs. This can be rearranging furniture, adding unfamiliar items, and moving their bed or crate. If your pet seems to be stressed, try to keep things consistent or make changes slowly, allowing your pet to get used to it.
6. Frequent Dietary Changes
Unlike people, pets generally like consistency in their meals. Feed the same brand of food to avoid gastrointestinal distress from radical changes in ingredients. Constantly changing their food can make them feel sick causing them to feel stressed and anxious. You can still feed them new treats every now and then but make sure you are consistent with their meals.
7. Mixed Signals
Scolding your pet for sitting on the couch and then inviting them to sit with you will send your pet mixed signals. Inconsistent communication is a common thing that most pet owners do and not even realize. To avoid your pet from becoming stressed, don’t change your house rules and also use the same commands at all times. For example, pets won’t know that “come” is the same as “over here.”
8. Not Enough Exercise
Dogs get bored just like us if they don’t have enough physical and mental stimulation in their lives. This leads to destructive behaviors such as chewing and digging, which results in unfair punishment and stress. Remember, dogs can’t be entertained as easily as us with just turning on Netflix and enjoying hours of TV shows. Dogs depend on their pet owners to stay fit, both physically and mentally.
9. Restraining or Cornering Your Dog for Affection
Some dogs love being hugged and some can become nervous or feel trapped. Even the cuddliest dogs may not like humans wrapping their arms around them. This is because dogs don’t feel restrained when cuddling. The point is, keep in mind that each dog has different comfort thresholds. Just like us, they deserve to have their personal boundaries respected as well!
10. Pointing or Shaking Your Finger
Pointing or shaking your finger with an angered tone will definitely stress your pup out. Animals rely heavily on body language to interpret our feelings and actions, so scolding verbally simply adds anxiety to your dog rather than fix the behavioral issues.