So do dogs suffer from stress?
To be very precise, the answer to that question is that they do. Dogs can suffer from different behavioral problems from separation anxiety to aggression and just like human beings, they suffer from everyday stress that may lead to issues that make them act irrationally. Just like with human beings, stress in dogs may manifest in both physical and psychological ways and the difference is that our canine friends cannot tell their masters the cause of their trouble.
What is stress?
Stress can be defined as any external or internal factor that can disrupt homeostasis. In simple terms, homeostasis is the state of equilibrium or balance that all organisms inclusive of your dog strive to maintain. Stress is very unpleasant and causes emotional reactions and physical changes to the respiration, heart rate as well as blood vessels of certain hormones. Just the same way stress can make humans afraid or irritable or hyper, it can do exactly that to your dog.
According to experts, chronic stress or ‘wrong kind’ of stress causes severe effects to dog’s health, behavior, and overall well-being. Humans and dogs have a similar physiological response to stress meaning that they experience similar negative and positive effects of stress. Stress has the potential to suppress the immune system, cause illness, increase arousal and eventually increase the chances of aggressive behavior.
‘Good’ stress vs ‘bad’ stress
Certain levels of stress increase the gray matter in the dog’s brain hence normal and necessary. This positive stress is regarded as eustress or stimulation and allows your dog to positively utilize energy and aid in the development of new capabilities. Most importantly, positive stress is very important to your dog’s normal growth.
On the other hand, excessive or negative stress is known as distress and besides damaging an organism, it can cause illnesses and behavioral problems like aggression and anxiety. Distress could become a vicious cycle with an organism becoming even more stressed to a point of collapsing due to exhaustion.
How does stress affect your dog?
Now that we already know that dogs suffer from stress, another thing that most people ask is how that stress affects their dogs. Well, due to the fact that dogs and humans respond to stress in a similar way, this is how dogs can be affected:
- During a stressful event, the dog’s body undergo adaptive changes
- For the dogs to survive, energy is diverted to muscles to prepare them for flight or fight and proteins, fats and glucose are diverted to the muscles that require the most energy
- The blood pressure and heart rate increase to distribute the energy as fast as possible, and this also increases the rate of breathing
- Muscle growth and repair is stopped, digestion is suppressed, senses are sharpened and immunity is inhibited
- Good health relies on the ability of your dog’s body to return to the normal state after a stressful episode has passed but if the stress is continually repeated, the body finds it hard to return to the normal state
- Dogs are likely to suffer from sustained stress if they’re exposed to somebody or something they fear repeatedly
- If the body is unable to return to its normal state, it may lead to the impairment of the immune system which in turn gives way to adaptive illnesses like kidney failure and digestive upset
So What Are Some of the Signs to Look For?
- Tail lowered or tucked
- Nose/lip licking
- Reduced appetite
- Ears pulled or pinned back
How to minimize stress for your dog
- Controlled exercises such as playing, swimming or walking to improve your dog’s cognitive function
- Provide problem-solving games as well as toys that will activate your dog’s brain and eventually get out of stressful situations
- Provide dog calming collars that use essential oils or pheromones to reduce anxiety or fear
- Desensitizing your dog to the trigger of their stress
If you are like many dog parents, chances are that you’ll find it hard to believe that dogs get stressed out. Unfortunately, dogs often do experience stress and the worst thing is that they can’t voice their feelings. If you notice a behavior change in your dog, whether he’s acting out, tense, distant or clingy, he could be suffering from stress which could affect his health and longevity. Given that you understand how stress makes you feel, it’s important to alleviate the dog’s stress as fast as possible. The more you know what triggers your dog’s stress and how he behaves when stressed out, the easier it will be to identify the signs and the faster it will be to take action to minimize stress.