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December 7, 2020

6 Ways Stress Wreaks Havoc on Your Dog’s Health

People suffer a multitude of health-related impacts as a result of stress — and your pet is no different. In fact, your pet can feel the impact of stress and have as many negative health effects as you do. According to the American Kennel Club, dogs experience stress for a variety of 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, especially loud noises and bad weather. In addition, aging can cause increased stress in many dogs, as memory loss makes even familiar situations seem daunting. 

There’s also one key cause of stress that you may not think about: your stress levels. According to a report published in Scientific Reports, dogs often reflect the stress levels shown by their owners. If you’re experiencing high levels of stress — 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 levels of stress. 

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 changes in 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 normal. You may notice a sudden change in your pet’s personality and behavior, or those symptoms may increase gradually over time, especially if your pet is responding to your increasing stress levels. 

2. Loss of Appetite

Dog with no appetite laying next to its food bowl

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, you may find that 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 periods of 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 as a result of 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 make existing diseases or illnesses worse, 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, which may give a stressed animal more time to leave behind a scary situation. During periods of ongoing stress, pets may begin to urinate inappropriately. A dog that you previously thought was completely house-trained, for example, 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 of the 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 during times 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 that he needs to spend more time with you. Other times, it may be more of a pure stress response: your pet needing to move or create a certain stimulus in an effort 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 a wide variety of people and animals. Watch your dog’s body language carefully to get a better idea of 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. Our “Hush, Puppy” calming chews, for example, are a holistic, natural approach to calming stress in your pet, without many of the side effects often associated with dangerous chemicals. 

Is your pet struggling with anxiety or stress? Fortunately, all-natural treatments can help. Check out our “Hush, Puppy” calming chews today to learn more about how they can calm your dog’s stress and help create a happier pet for your family.