Is your dog behaving unusually? Perhaps he or she seems overly anxious or depressed. Stress is more common in dogs than you might think. Worse still, stress can have a negative effect on your dog’s health. Here are five common signs of stress and anxiety in dogs to help you identify them and seek help quickly.
1. diarrhoea, constipation or other digestive problems
Although they are more often attributed to disease or food intolerance, gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhoea and constipation can also be caused by anxiety. Speak to your vet if diarrhoea, constipation or other digestive problems are unusually severe, especially if they have lasted longer than 24 hours or if the diarrhoea is bloody. Blood in vomit and/or stool may be an indicator of food-borne disease.
2. loss of appetite
Dogs do not fast or feed themselves like we do, so it is important to consult a vet if your pet suddenly loses interest in food or stops eating altogether. This may be due to stress or an underlying health condition, including anorexia, which can cause your dog to refuse to eat completely and food intake to decrease so much that there is a dramatic loss of weight.
Some dogs like to be alone from time to time. However, a dog that constantly isolates itself from other pets or people can suffer from anxiety or illness. Your vet can help you to find the cause of this strange behaviour.
4. increased sleep
By now you have gotten used to your dog’s sleeping schedule. Talk to your vet if your dog sleeps more than usual or seems overly lethargic. Lethargy is often the first symptom of a dog being sick, injured or traumatised. It can also be a symptom of conditions including diabetes, heart and liver problems, tumours, diarrhoea and severe dehydration, hypothyroidism, anaemia and poisoning.
5. aggression towards humans or other animals
Aggressive actions towards animals or people can be a sign of a stressed or sick dog. Consult your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist before the problem gets worse. Many aggressive signs are associated with an anxious posture and facial expression and submissive behavior. Treatment for aggression focuses on behavior management techniques to help the dog manage his fear and anger. Tools such as muzzles can be effective even when the dog is not at home. All treatments focus on preventing injuries to humans, other animals and the dog.
How can you help a stressed dog?
If your dog’s behaviour suddenly changes, make an appointment with your vet. He or she can rule out any underlying medical problems and make recommendations to reduce your dog’s stress. Here are some tips on how to reduce your dog’s anxiety:
Play/train your dog regularly – physical activities such as a fetch game or a walk around the block are a great stress reliever for dogs.
Create a safe zone – Set up an area in your home where your dog can escape stressful events such as thunderstorms and parties. Provide your dog with a preferred “safety blanket” like a toy and visit your dog frequently. If possible, stay with him until the high-stress event is over. Your presence is a great comfort to him or her.
Choose a quality dog food – Your dog’s diet is an essential part of his health and well-being. Giving your dog a diet that is not balanced for his stage of life and lifestyle can have unforeseen effects that can lead to anxiety and stress.