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Stress in Our Dogs: Common Triggers & Signs

Jacqueline Neilson, DVM, DACVB

Behavior

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Stress in Our Dogs: Common Triggers & Signs

It can be hard to believe that our pampered pooches may be stressed. After all, they don’t have 40-hour-plus workweeks, project deadlines, commutes in heavy traffic, teenagers, mortgage payments, or credit card bills! However, although their stressors aren’t necessarily the same as ours, research has established that dogs can and often do experience stress, and that stress may compromise their overall health and welfare.1,2 For example, research has now elucidated details of the brain-gut connection: the release of norepinephrine (the “fight or flight” hormone) affects gastrointestinal physiology resulting in detrimental changes in gut bacteria, motility, pain sensitivity, and other parameters.3 This digestive upset often presents as diarrhea in our patients, creating yet another stressful experience for the dog and the owner: house-soiling! Some dogs may experience short-lived or acute stressors but other dogs may live with chronic stress. An enhanced awareness and understanding of stress triggers, stress-related behaviors, and physiological stress consequences can help us identify and reduce canine stress and its negative health consequences. 

10 Common Stress Triggers for Dogs4:

  1. Novelty — exposure to new items, new people, new animals, etc.
  2. Loud noises — fireworks, thunderstorms, etc.
  3. Changes in housing — moving to a new home, boarding, etc.
  4. Changes in household members — new baby, new pet, loss of pet or human, house-guests, etc. 
  5. Changes in household routine — new job schedule, kids returning to school, holidays, etc.
  6. Punitive training methods — shock collars, yelling, hitting, etc.
  7. Invasion of personal space — disruption when resting, hugging, kissing, forcibly restraining, etc.
  8. Lack of outlets for normal breed behaviors — herding, running, retrieving, etc.
  9. Separation from human family members — separation anxiety, etc.
  10. Poor (strained) relationships with other household members (pets or humans), etc.

Top 10 Signs of Stress in Dogs4:

While there are individual variations in the expression of stress and there can be other causes for these behavioral signs, below are the Top 10 Signs of Stress in Dogs: 

  1. Nose/lip licking
  2. Yawning
  3. Panting
  4. Reduced or absent appetite 
  5. Diarrhea
  6. Tail lowered or tucked
  7. Ears pulled or pinned back
  8. Cowering/crouched body posture and/or hiding
  9. Trembling/shaking 
  10. Increased vocalizations - whining, howling, barking

If a dog exhibits these signs of stress, try to identify and remove or reduce the stress triggers. 

Additionally, for dogs under 30 lb with stress-related GI upset, prescribe Hill’s® Prescription Diet® i/d® Stress. i/d Stress is a highly digestible nutritional solution formulated with hydrolyzed casein, prebiotic fiber, and ginger to help manage stress and reduce the risk of stress related digestive upset. For optimal results, feed well in advance of the stressful trigger. This food is formulated for maintenance in adult dogs and is therefore suitable for long-term use for those dogs that may experience chronic stress. 

References

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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