Friday, August 23, 2013

Stress in Dogs 101

Dogs suffer from stress just like humans do and chronic stress results in all the same medical issues for dogs as it does for people.  We each need to observe our dogs for signs of stress and then address the sources in their lives.  Of course, some stress is unavoidable, but keeping it to acceptable levels is essential for all species.  This first post in the series addresses the signs of stress, so we can watch our dogs and know what to watch for.  Each dog responds with their own combination of signs.

Gimme here: I have a very busy schedule and my person is always watching to make sure I don't have too much stress.  As the Cutest Puppy on the Planet, I want to be involved in everything.  Sometimes my person has to remind me that I've done more than my fair share.  She loves me and takes care of me, even sometimes saying "no". 

Signs of Stress
Its important to note that many of these signs show up when a dog isn’t stressed, so consider the signs in context, how often and how intense.  In particular noting changes in these respects is a strong indicator.

  • Nervousness – dog easily startled.
  • Restlessness – dog fidgets, difficulty relaxing, can’t calm down.
  • Overreaction – especially when in same conditions he’d be normally relaxed.
  • Calming Signals – dog shows calming signals. 
  • Freeze – lack of calming signals in appropriate situations.
  • Defecation and Urination – release of adrenaline activates sympathetic nervous system that signals rectum to empty and shifts in water balance may cause diarrhea and more frequent need to urinate.
  • Unsheathing Penis in Males –
  • Mounting – often occurs in mixed groups of dogs and may be mistaken for dominance.  May occur with humans.
  • Hypersexuality/Hyposexuality – excessive libido or complete loss of sexual drive.
  • Altered Sexual Cycle – changes in usual cycle of seasons for females, including cessation of seasons.
  • Exaggerated Self-Grooming – can lead to self-inflicted wounds called lick granulomas.  Open or swollen wounds cause the body to release endorphins (happy hormones).
  • Destroying Objects – especially when left alone is a serious stress signal.
  • Exaggerated Noise Making – continuous barking, whining and howling.
  • Disorders of the Digestive System – diarrhea and vomiting are among the most common.
  • Allergies – to food, mites, flea bites, pollen, grass, insecticides, etc. can be stress induced, since chronic stress suppresses the immune system.
  • Appetite Loss – including inability to eat treats may indicate either short or long term stress.
  • Over-Eating – gulping down anything and everything, edible or not (called "pica"). 
  • Unpleasant Body Odor and Bad Breath – stress raises the secretion of gastrointestinal acids that create bad breath and can affect body smell.
  • Whiskers – when they become stiff or tremble.
  • Raised Hackles – stiffening of the hairs on the back and neck occurs whenever a dog is aroused and often when stressed, feels insecure, is very happy, and other emotionally charged situations.
  • Tense Muscles – dogs need to move to relax their muscles, so movement is essential when a dog is stressed.
  • Dandruff – like that seen on a veterinary exam table.
  • Sudden Molting – like that seen on a veterinary exam table and also observed at shows/trials. 
  • Bad Coat Conditioning and Heavy Molting – over a long period of time can result in bald patches.
  • Unhealthy Appearance – along with symptoms listed above, their eyes can seem dull and sunken, posture sagging and crouching and tail hanging limp.
  • Skin Problems – such as eczema, itchiness and open wounds.
  • Eye Color Changes – unclear why this happens.  Also eyes can appear blood-shot due to high blood pressure.
  • Panting – unrelated to warm temperatures or exertion. 
  • Dripping Nose – from increased nasal fluid production.
  • Sweaty Paws – usually noticed because of damp paw prints on floors.
  • Trembling – when muscle contraction occurs during stress, the body tries to loosen the muscles by moving them.
  • Frantic Teeth Snapping – air snapping that is not directed toward the thing that concerns the dog.  Deliberate, off-target and usually audible.
  • Startled Eyes / Flickering Gaze – extreme strain can cause uncontrolled eye movements.
  • Staring Intensely at Things That Are Worrisome – inability to look away from what worries them.
  • Compulsive Behavior – behavior that is repeated over time with no obvious reason.
  • Biting or Snapping at Leash – can include tugging at the leash.  Can seem to be a game until you notice patterns regarding when it occurs.
  • Poor Concentration – slow and absent responses to cues or training.
  • Forgetfulness – seeming to forget things they normally know well.
  • Re-Directed Behavior / Displacement Activity – behavior that seems to be unrelated to what worries the dog.  Sometimes calming signals.
  • Staring Intensely at Unrelated Things – such as flies or beams of light.
  • Passivity – quiet, withdrawn, or learned helplessness.
  • Shaking – dogs “shake it off” when they realize that something isn’t threatening, so this usually follows stress.
Remember, many of these symptoms are normal in certain situations, while some are never normal.

For more information read:
Stress in Dogs: Learn how dogs show stress and what you can do to help,  by Martina Scholz and Clarissa von Reinhardt.
On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, by Turid Rugaas.

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