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Can Stress Affect Your Dog's Health?

Stress can negatively affect a dog’s health.

Stress is a big deal for humans. We know that, when it's chronic, it can have negative effects on our health. But what about your dog? Can she suffer from bad health consequences related to stress?

Do Dogs Feel Stress?

Dogs do suffer from stress. Most of the time, it's brought on by some kind of change in the home or schedule. Common causes of stress in dogs include:

  • A new pet or person in the house.
  • New schedule for the primary caregiver.
  • Remodeling or rearranging of the home.
  • Loud noises like thunderstorms, fireworks, or parties.
  • Travel.
  • Grooming or boarding.
  • Veterinary visits.

How Does Stress Affect a Dog's Health?

Most of the time, stress in dogs is transient and resolves quickly. The dog gets used to whatever new thing is going on, or it goes away as in the case of a thunderstorm or houseguests. However, sometimes dogs may experience chronic stressful situations, or they might even have a general anxiety-inducing condition like separation anxiety that keeps them stressed all the time. When that happens, negative health effects can occur, including:

  • Decrease or loss of appetite. This can be a dangerous situation if it goes on for too long, and it becomes life-threatening even faster in young, old, or medically compromised dogs.
  • Chewing, licking, or ingesting non-food items. Many dogs that are stressed resort to inappropriate chewing or eating of non-edible items. Door frames, toys, and household items might all be at risk, and when a dog eats those things, they can cause a dangerous gastrointestinal obstruction. Another common manifestation of stress in dogs is licking or chewing at an area of their own body excessively, leading to skin damage and secondary infection, like a lick granuloma.
  • Decreased immune system. Stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol, which is helpful in the short term when a dog might need to run or fight to survive. However, when the cortisol release is chronic, it causes health problems like a less effective immune system. A stressed dog is at greater risk of developing infections and diseases.
  • Diarrhea. When a dog is stressed, she might develop sudden diarrhea, and if a dog is chronically stressed, the loose stool might stick around and become chronic too.
  • Inappropriate urination. When a dog is under stress, she might urinate inside. This can be sudden, like when she experiences a burst of fear, or chronic, when she urinates around the house in an attempt to mark her territory and feel better.
  • Behavior changes. A stressed dog might act differently than she usually does. That could manifest as aggression toward people or other pets, clinginess or aloof behavior, or increased time spent sleeping.

Individual dogs might show signs other than the ones listed. If your dog develops any abnormal health or behavior signs, visit the veterinarian right away.

How to Fight Stress in Dogs

The first step is always having your dog checked out by a veterinarian. Medical conditions need to be ruled out. Once that's done, there are some ways you can help your dog manage stress.

  • Keep to a schedule. Knowing what comes next and being able to rely on it can really help a stressed dog feel better. As much as possible, keep your dog's schedule consistent. Feed meals, go for walks, and have play times every day around the same times.
  • Increase exercise. The old adage that a tired dog is a good dog can be true, and it can also help a stressed dog. Getting as much excess energy as possible out of your canine friend can help decrease unwanted behaviors. Plus, the hormones released by activity fight cortisol.
  • Create a quiet space. Give your dog a nice, calm, quiet area to hang out in when things get stressful. This can be especially helpful if your dog's stress is triggered by parties, thunderstorms, or other noisy events in and around your home. Prepare a small room containing everything your dog needs including food, water, a nice, cozy bed, and some toys. You can even play a soothing classical CD to help your dog feel better.
  • Try Adaptil. This product mimics the calming pheromones a mother dog emits to help keep her puppies peaceful. It comes in a spray, diffuser, and collar, and some dogs experience great relief from stress with its use.

Some dogs, especially those that are at risk of injuring themselves or others with their stress-induced behaviors, can benefit from anti-anxiety medications. Don't give your dog any medicine without talking to your vet first.

If general stress-reducing techniques don't help your dog, a canine behavior specialist may be the answer. This would involve individual recommendations based on your dog's specific behaviors and circumstances. Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a behavior specialist if you think this could benefit your dog.

You May Also Like These Articles:

Separation Anxiety in Dogs

How to Prevent Separation Anxiety in Your New Dog

How to Help a Dog with Anxiety

Signs of Anxiety in Dogs

DOGTV: A Great Way to Help Dogs That Are Home Alone All Day

How to Cope with Canine Anxiety and Fear by Using Adaptil(TM) (Formerly called D.A.P)

Gazing into Your Dog's Eyes Releases Love Hormone

Benefits of Multiple Dog Households

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