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Dog Stress Signals: How Stress Makes Your Pet Ill and How to Help

Discover how dog stress signals can indicate serious health issues. Learn about symptoms, impacts, and ways to reduce stress for a healthier pet.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed on July 5, 2024

dog stress signals image
Dog stress signals are important. Reducing stress in your pet could mean happier, healthier times ahead. By: digitalcj

Could stress-related illness be making your pet sick? If your dog suffers from skin problems, vomiting, diarrhea, bladder issues, or even seizures these are common dog stress signals.

Common Dog Stress Signals and Their Meanings

Understanding dog stress signals is crucial for maintaining your pet’s health. Common signs include excessive barking, pacing, whining, and changes in body posture. Recognizing these signals early can help address stress before it leads to more severe health issues.

Effective Ways to Relieve Stress in Dogs

Relieving dog stress involves creating a calming environment, providing regular exercise, and using stress-relief tools like toys or calming aids. Additionally, maintaining a consistent routine helps reduce anxiety.

Physical Responses to Stress

We share a lot in common with our pets, including the “fight or flight” response. This response, triggered by stress, causes a racing pulse that sends oxygenated blood to the muscles, readying them to fight or flee.

The Impact of Dog Stress Signals

  • Short-Term Benefits: Provides flexibility to cope with extra demands.
  • Long-Term Issues: Chronic exposure to the stress hormone cortisol can lead to health problems.

While a bit of stress is normal and necessary, too much can cause significant health issues in pets.

For more about how pets respond to stress, read Ready to Fight.

Altered Blood Picture

If you think stress is all in the mind, think again. There are shifts in the number of types of white blood cells in the bloodstream that are so characteristic that the pattern is given the name “stress leukogram.”

Typically, this is a rise in neutrophil numbers and a fall in lymphocytes and eosinophils. This is down to the influence of cortisol on the body, but the effects don’t stop there.

Weakened Immune System

Cortisol release changes the balance of the immune system’s defenses. It weakens how the body fights bacteria and viruses, making it more vulnerable to infection. Signs of this are recurrent skin infections or a simple cold that refuses to clear up.

For more on stress leukogram and recurrent skin infections.

Stress could result in a weakened immune system in your pet. By: panli54

Physical Effects of Dog Stress Signals

Stomach Ulcers

It’s not just people who get stress-related ulcers. The natural steroid production acts on the stomach and:

  • Decreases the amount of protective mucus lining the stomach
  • Slows repair of the stomach lining
  • Increases the production of stomach acid

These factors combined cause acid to eat away at the stomach lining. Symptoms include poor appetite, regular vomiting (perhaps with blood), and restlessness linked to eating.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

IBD is a complicated condition with many factors, but stress also plays a part. A weakened immune system doesn’t patrol the gut wall properly, allowing food antigens to pass between cells and promote an inflammatory response, resulting in diarrhea.

For more on how stress results in diarrhea.

Blood Pressure, Blindness, and Seizures

Prolonged stress and increased cortisol can raise blood pressure, leading to blindness, kidney, liver, and heart damage, and seizures.

For more on raised blood pressure.

When Cortisol Is Necessary

Addison’s Disease

This condition occurs when the body can’t respond to stress. Lack of cortisol production means the body can’t produce extra glucose when needed, causing dangerously low blood glucose, sickness, diarrhea, collapse, and possibly death.

For more on this condition.

Stress has a real and physical connection to illness in pets. Reducing stress can help keep your pet healthy.

For more on bladder inflammation.

Photo: Paul David

Behavioral Changes Indicating Stress in Dogs

Behavioral changes such as aggression, withdrawal, excessive licking, and destructive behavior can indicate stress. Monitoring and addressing these behaviors promptly can prevent stress from escalating.

How to Create a Stress-Free Environment for Your Dog

Creating a stress-free environment includes providing a safe space, minimizing loud noises, and ensuring socialization with other dogs. A comfortable and stable home environment is essential for reducing dog stress signals.

Tips for Managing Stress in Multi-Pet Households

In multi-pet households, stress can be higher due to competition for resources. Ensuring each pet has its own space, feeding area, and attention time can help manage and reduce stress.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How to Tell if Your Dog is Stressed Out?

You can tell if your dog is stressed out by observing signs like excessive barking, pacing, panting, drooling, and changes in body posture or behavior.

What are the Five Fs of a Dog in Stress?

The five Fs of a dog in stress are: Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fidget, and Flirt.

How Can I Help My Dog with Stress?

You can help your dog with stress by providing a calm environment, regular exercise, consistent routines, and stress-relief tools like toys and calming aids.

How Does a Stressed Dog Act?

A stressed dog may act aggressively, withdraw, exhibit excessive licking or chewing, and show destructive behavior.