Most dogs, like people, have coping strategies that allow them to deal with the many small day-to-day life stresses, as well as occasional larger stressors. And like people, not every dog deals with stress the same way. Some may struggle more than others. When our dog feels fear or stress, it is important for us to recognize the signs and interpret them accurately to be able to respond appropriately. Non-specific stress related signs can be a sign of injury or illness so recognizing stress in dogs can get our dog prompt medical attention.
Stress in dogs is hard on the entire body. Anxieties cause physical reactions in the body that lead to a rise in stress hormones such as corticosteroids. These hormones can negatively impact the immune system and therefore, increase the susceptibility to a variety of infectious diseases including bacterial and viral. Many chronically stressed dogs can also suffer from immune issues such as allergies or gastrointestinal problems. It can hasten the aging process, delay wound healing, contribute to depression or anxiety, and decrease cognitive function.
Stress in dogs can manifest in a variety of ways:
- excessive barking
What Can Cause Stress in Dogs?
More seriously, dogs can exhibit separation anxiety, destructiveness, phobias, unexplained accidents in the house and even fear aggression. These symptoms of stress and anxiety are often mistaken as bad behaviors and can tragically lead people to surrender their dogs to shelters. Understanding these symptoms can get these dogs the help they need. Pain and illness can cause a dog to act out so it’s important to first have your dog examined by a veterinarian to determine the behavior is not caused by a physical problem.
Next it’s important to determine what is causing your dog to feel stress. There are a number of possibilities:
- moving to a new home
- a change in your daily schedule
- a new dog next door
- the loss or illness of a household member (human or animal)
- As an example, my Sheltie became very anxious and stressed when my twelve year old Australian Shepherd started showing symptoms of her kidney disease.
The activities during holiday season can also often be a source of stress in dogs. Decorating, visitors, fireworks etc. may cause stress to a sensitive dog.
When it’s not possible to either eliminate the stressor or reduce your dog’s exposure to the stressor, there are a variety of ways to help your dog feel more balanced without resorting to anti-anxiety medications. A regular routine with lots of exercise, lots of TLC, new toys and brain games can all help. Here are some other methods and modalities that I have experienced are effective with nervous, unsure dogs. I have seen them noticeably relax with each or a combination of these.
Methods to Reduce Stress in Dogs
Massage therapy for dogs loosens tight muscles, eases anxiety and depression, and releases endorphins into the body. Not only that, but most dogs find the physical contact that a gentle massage offers to be calming and enjoyable. As an owner, the loving touch enhances the bond between you and your dog. This touch will soothe your dog and deepen his trust and confidence. Massage is a great way to reduce stress in dogs.
The word Reiki means universal life force energy. Life force energy permeates all living forms. It is the energy that gives vitality and sustains us. Reiki is a simple, natural and intuitive technique for connecting this universal energy with the body’s innate powers of healing and for bringing the body into a harmonious state so that our energy is balanced. With Reiki, we are treating the whole being, spiritually, emotionally as well as physically. Reiki promotes the highest healing potential so it is a natural pain and stress relief, healing modality. Reiki can help with a range of problems, including anxiety and stress by balancing the body and infusing it with positive, relaxing energy. Reiki is another way to reduce the stress in dogs.
Acupressure is an ancient healing modality from Traditional Chinese Medicine. The body contains energetic pathways called meridians that help with the circulation of chi (life force) and blood and the functioning of organs. By stimulating certain acupoints along these meridians using light pressure, you can remove blockages that might be interfering with the flow of chi and blood and causing ill health, whether physical or emotional. Acupressure is often used to relieve stress in dogs.
Negative ions are odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules that we inhale in abundance in certain environments for example, the mountains, waterfalls, and beaches. Once they reach our bloodstream, negative ions are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin, helping to alleviate depression and relieve stress, and is also an energy booster. There are negative ion air purifiers and ion generators. I utilize two negative-ion infused products (linen and insole) that are designed for human use that I, however, have adapted for using with dogs to help reduce stress in dogs.
More Potential Methods of Reducing Stress in Dogs
Aromatherapy or essential oil therapy utilizes naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance and unify physiological and spiritual processes to enhance an individual’s innate healing process. Below are individual oils that can have a calming effect:
It is important to dilute these in a carrier oil. Combination oils also work at target specific anxiety-related issues.
Flower essences are herbal infusions or decoctions made from the flowering part of specific plants which uniquely address emotional and mental aspects of wellness by enhancing the positive aspects of the qualities of mind, emotion, and personality. Bach’s Rescue Remedy has a calming effect on animals when they are impatient, fearful, or anxious. Also, there are Individual remedies available that address specific issues like fear, neediness, or abandonment depending on the dog’s situation. Examples of these are Vervain, Aspen, Mimulus, Heather, Honeysuckle and Walnut. Flower remedies can be added to your dog’s water or you can rub them on his ears, paw pads, or coat. They’re safe and non-toxic.
Both aromatherapy and flower essences may help reduce stress in dogs. If you think you may like to try Reiki or dog massage for your stressed dog, please contact me at 919-452-3467. I can explain the process in more detail and show you how either can help to reduce the stress in dogs.