6 Ways Stress Wreaks Havoc on Your Dog’s Health
People suffer many health-related impacts due to stress — and your pet is no different. Your pet can feel the impact of stress and have as many adverse health effects as you do. According to the American Kennel Club, dogs experience stress for various reasons. They may quickly become stressed during periods of separation, especially if they’re in an unfamiliar environment. They can also be stressed due to fear stimuli, thunderous noises, and lousy weather. In addition, aging can cause increased stress in many dogs, as memory loss makes even familiar situations seem daunting.
One fundamental cause of stress that you may not think about is your stress levels. According to a report published in Scientific Reports, dogs often reflect the stress levels their owners show. If you’re experiencing high-stress levels — due to a big move, layoffs, a change in life circumstances, or the stress associated with 2020 in general — your pet may be reflecting the same high-stress levels.
Luckily, if you’re familiar with the most common signs of stress in your pet, you can take steps to treat the impact of stress. Look out for these seven signs:
1. Changes in Personality or Behavior
One impact of stress on your pet may be changing their overall personality or behavior. A dog that is usually calm sprawled out on the couch or beside you on the floor, may suddenly start pacing the floor or whining. You may notice your pet appearing agitated: ears laid back, panting, or barking more often than usual. You may see a sudden change in your pet’s personality and behavior, or those symptoms may increase gradually, primarily if your pet responds to your growing stress levels.
2. Loss of Appetite
During stressful periods, some animals will seem to lose their appetite altogether. Over time, the impact of stress can lead to extreme weight loss. In an otherwise healthy animal, brief periods of stress may result in only minimal weight loss. In an animal whose health is otherwise compromised, however, weight loss and lack of appetite can lead to more significant changes.
3. Increased Diarrhea and Other Stomach Upset
Another impact of stress you may notice in a stressed pet is increased signs of stomach upset. They won’t just be reluctant to eat — they’ll have more frequent stool or even outright diarrhea. During high stress, the nervous system (including the nerves in the gut) kicks into high gear. This can cause overall intestinal upset. Some animals will try to eat non-food items due to this stomach distress. Others may continue to refuse to eat.
4. Decreased Immunity
Dogs, like humans, produce higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, during periods of immense stress. As a result, one impact of stress is a distinct dip in their immune systems. Emmy Award-winning veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber notes, “With stress and, ultimately, immune suppression, dogs are unable to fight off infection or disease.”
This proves particularly problematic during periods of ongoing stress or when you know your dog has an increased chance of being exposed to potential contagion — if you must place your dog in a kennel while you go on a trip, for example. This decreased immunity can also worsen existing diseases or illnesses, causing much more severe side effects than your dog would usually face from those conditions. Reducing stress for your dog, especially over the long term, can help keep your pet much healthier.
5. Urination Issues
In the wild, abrupt urination can cause a predator to back away, giving a stressed animal more time to leave behind a scary situation. During periods of ongoing stress, pets may begin to urinate inappropriately. For example, A dog you previously thought was utterly house-trained may suddenly start urinating indoors. You may find that your pet is more likely to urinate in response to fear stimuli or to show signs of submission, especially around dominant members of the household.
However, during particularly stressed periods, your pet may also try to hide signs of inappropriate urination. When this occurs, take care not to react loudly or inappropriately. Punishing your pet for a stress response could further increase their stress and inadvertently cause more undesirable behavior.
6. Behavior Problems
Just as stress causes humans to react in unpredictable ways, including acting out inappropriately, it can cause a similar response in your pet. A mild-mannered pet may become much needier, invading your space or begging when he previously wouldn’t have behaved that way. You may notice your pet breaking long-standing rules in your home: chewing on shoes, toys, or furniture, scratching at the doors, or barking at inappropriate times.
The more stressed your pet becomes, the more behavior problems you may note. Sometimes, behavior problems can be a cry for attention: your pet telling you he needs to spend more time with you. Other times, it may be more of a pure stress response: your pet needs to move or create a specific stimulus to calm down.
Calming Your Pet
Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to calm your pet and reduce the impact of stress. Follow these tips:
- Decrease exposure to stressful stimuli. For example, you might want to avoid exposing your pet to loud noises as much as possible. Avoid yelling or roughhousing around your pet if you know it causes stress.
- Provide appropriate socialization. Get your dog used to being around various people and animals. Pay attention to your dog’s body language to understand better when he may be feeling the impact of stress from that stimulus.
- Use a supplement that will help keep your pet calm and reduce stress. For example, our “Hush, Puppy” calming chews are a holistic, natural approach to managing stress in your pet without many of the side effects often associated with dangerous chemicals.
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