Picking up poop is one of a dog owner’s least favorite activities, but higher on that list is discovering that your dog had an accident inside the house. A dog’s inability to control its bowels or a dog having diarrhea or constipation usually poses a red flag for owners, and rightfully so.
Gastrointestinal (GI) issues in dogs might stem from a variety of underlying health problems, but one that dog owners don’t always consider is stress. Dogs can experience stress and anxiety much like humans do, and sometimes, they can cause serious problems for your dog’s bowel.
A lot of pet owners miss the signs of stress and anxiety in their dogs before they get worse, and then think the dog’s bowel problems are related to an illness. Pet owners should understand the signs of anxiety and how they relate to GI problems, so they can better treat their dogs when these issues arise.
The link between stress and GI issues
When your dog is stressed, its body releases hormones called cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones affect the body in different ways, such as increasing your dog’s heart rate and reducing digestion.
Gastrointestinal problems are actually one of the most common physical responses to stress, and they most often manifest as dog diarrhea. Constipation may also occur, and both of these issues may cause your dog to defecate inside the home, despite being trained to go outside.
Colitis is one of the major culprits relating canine stress and digestive upset. The condition refers to the inflammation of the large intestine. This reduces the colon’s ability to absorb water and store fecal matter, producing frequent, thin and runny stool rather than healthy stool. Small amounts of blood may also be apparent in the stool.
Many things can cause colitis, but stress is near the top of the list, particularly when the colitis is acute, or sudden. The body’s hormonal response to stress can trigger the inflammation that causes colitis, resulting in a sudden onset of the condition. The best way to clear up stress-induced colitis is to mitigate your dog’s stress.
Dogs can become stressed over a number of things. If your dog has separation anxiety or another anxiety disorder, it may become stressed because of everyday things, like you leaving for work. In most dogs, though, certain events can trigger stress, such as the sudden loss of a loved one, moving to a new home, a new family member or a traumatic experience.
Other signs your dog may be in distress
Colitis is likely not the only symptom of stress that your dog will exhibit. Canine stress and anxiety can also manifest in other ways, including:
- Decrease in appetite
- Sleeping more/lethargy
- Unusual vocalization
- Behavioral changes/aggression
These symptoms can last for a few days, a few weeks or even longer, but you shouldn’t delay in seeking professional help once you notice them. Many of these symptoms are also signs of other diseases, so you should take your dog to the vet as soon as possible to have more serious health problems ruled out.
Helping your pup relieve stress
Once you visit a vet and your dog is diagnosed with stress or anxiety, you’ll need to work hard to care for your pup and reduce its stress, so it stops having bowel movement problems.
If your dog has severe anxiety, your vet may recommend prescription medications that will help it relax. However, not all dogs will need medications to work through their stress. Here are some other ways to help your dog cope:
- Quality time: Love and care from you, the owner, is one of the best ways to help your pooch feel more relaxed and at-home during its period of stress. Create a safe space within the home for your dog to relax in, and go there to play with your pup, groom it and spend quality time together.
- Stress-reducing supplements: Some herbal blends are well-known for promoting feelings of calm in both humans and animals. If your dog is having a hard time adjusting to the situation that is causing it stress, try giving it a calming supplement.
- Physical exercise: Much like in humans, physical exercise can help dogs relieve stress and feel happier. Exercise is also critical to its bodily health, which makes adapting to stress easier. Take your dog for frequent walks, runs and trips to the dog park to play.
- Patience: Sometimes, your dog will only be able to overcome its stress or anxiety with time. If you recently moved or a new family member is present, patience and slow introductions to new people and places will be necessary to gradually adjust your dog to its new, calmer life.
By helping your dog work through its stress, its GI problems should also be alleviated, since the hormones will no longer be affecting the colon. In time, your dog will return to the happy, healthy and regular pooch it used to be.