Stress and anxiety are easy to spot in dogs. They become afflicted with tummy troubles and the insatiable urge to chew up the entire house. Despite these warning signs, pet parents commonly misbelieve that stress doesn’t affect their dog’s physical health. But diarrhea isn’t the only problem—anxious pups are more likely to contract diseases and suffer from malnutrition.
Your fur baby doesn’t have to go through life in a constant state of stress. It’s never too late to reverse chronic stress and anxiety and their damaging effects. Take a moment to learn the health consequences associated with canine stress and what you can do to prevent them.
Health problems in stressed pups
The impact of stress goes far beyond panting, pacing and barking. Over time, chronic stress can lead to negative effects on your dog’s body. Here are the most common health problems seen in stressed and anxious dogs.
- Upset stomach: Stress and anxiety often cause recurring diarrhea, vomiting and constipation in dogs. Elevated stress hormone levels stimulate the nervous system, especially along the gastrointestinal tract. These overly stimulated nerves trigger intestinal spasms, which leads to stomach pain and runny stool. Stressed dogs frequently vomit because adrenaline slows digestion and forces food to sit in the stomach for too long. Chronic vomiting and diarrhea may lead to dehydration, a serious condition that requires immediate medical help.
- Weakened immunity: Much like in humans, stress weakens your pup’s immune system. Cortisol, a type of stress hormone, reduces the number of antibodies circulating in the bloodstream. Antibodies are crucial for fighting off bacterial and viral infections. With fewer antibodies in their system, your pup may get sick more often. Stress can also drain your dog’s energy, which makes cells more vulnerable to parasites and toxins.
- Loss of appetite: When a dog becomes stressed, their body funnels nutrients to systems that will help the dog survive a dangerous event. This is why anxiety is often associated with high blood pressure, panting and a rapid heartbeat. As your pup enters this fight-or-flight response, the body pulls blood away from systems that aren’t necessary during a stressful situation. Digestion will slow down and make your pup lose their appetite. Loss of appetite can lead to nutritional deficiencies and extreme weight loss over time.
- Health emergencies: Stressed and anxious dogs often develop bad behaviors like chewing on furniture and hazardous objects. They need an outlet for all that nervous energy, and the TV remote just so happens to be within reach. This destructive chewing habit may cause dogs to swallow string, buttons, rocks and other inedible items that can block the wind pipe or digestive tract. These blockages require an emergency trip to the vet for proper removal.
Proven ways to reduce stress in dogs
Pet parents have the power to prevent stress and the resulting health consequences. A few small changes to your dog’s routine can make huge strides toward a relatively stress-free life. Here are some healthy habits to try with your anxious pup.
- Create a stress-relief tool kit: Many stressful situations are unavoidable. You can’t always predict when strangers, fireworks or construction will appear right outside your window. In these scenarios, the best thing you can do is provide temporary stress relief. Pheromone plug-ins and collars emit synthetic chemicals designed to comfort anxious pups. You can mask stressful sounds with a white noise machine or calming instrumental music. Some dogs have a favorite toy they like to carry around that helps them feel safe.
- Stick to a consistent routine: Change is very stressful for dogs, whether you have a new family member or simply bought a different fabric softener. Help your dog cope with the change by keeping their routine as consistent as possible. Pet parents should walk, feed and play with their pups at the same times each day. A consistent routine gives anxious dogs something to latch onto during times of uncertainty.
- Provide physical and mental stimulation: Exercise is a very effective stress reliever for dogs. Moving their bodies releases feel-good endorphins that alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety. Play time burns off excessive energy and helps restore a calm state of mind. Mental exercise is equally important because it distracts anxious pups from the stressful event. Puzzle toys and training sessions can also stave off boredom, which is often a precursor to stress.
Every dog will experience stress at some point in their life. Pet parents must be able to recognize when the occasional stressor turns into a recurring problem. If your dog has chronic stress or anxiety, look for ways to bring happiness back into their daily routine. Reducing stress positively affects the mind and body for overall wellness.