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Symptoms of Stress

Stress happens every day for many reasons, including learning new things or practicing known behaviors to perfection. Without stress responses, your dog would probably not learn.

But beyond the comfort zone, stress stops being helpful and can start causing major damage to your dog’s mind and body.

Dogs can become stressed, too. However, our dogs don’t voice their feelings, slam down the phone or throw a tantrum, so how can we tell they are stressed? The signs of canine anxiety are often subtle. In fact, some stress-related behaviors mimic normal canine antics, so here are a few clues that may indicate that your dog’s stress level is elevated.

Top Ten Indicators of Stress in Dogs

Pacing or shaking. You’ve seen your dog shake after a bath or a roll in the grass. That whole body shake can be amusing and is quite normal…unless it’s a result of a stressful situation. For example, dogs are commonly stressed out when visiting the veterinarian, much like their owners are when going to a human medical doctor. Many dogs “shake it off” when they descend from the exam table and touch down on terra firma. Dogs, like people, also pace when agitated. Some dogs walk a repeated path around the exam room while waiting for the doctor.

Whining or barking. Vocalization is normal canine self-expression, but may be intensified under duress. Dogs that are afraid or tense may whine or bark to get your attention, or to self soothe.

Yawning, drooling and licking. Dogs yawn when they are tired or bored, but did you know that they also yawn when stressed? A stressful yawn is more prolonged and intense than a sleepy yawn. Dogs may also drool and lick excessively when nervous.

Changes in eyes and ears. Stressed dogs, like stressed people, may have dilated pupils and blink rapidly. They may open their eyes really wide and show more sclera (white) than usual, giving them a startled appearance. Ears that are usually relaxed or alert are pinned back against the head.

Changes in body posture. Dogs normally bear even weight on all four legs. If a healthy dog with no orthopedic problems shifts his weight to his rear legs or cowers, he may be exhibiting stress. When scared, dogs may also tuck their tails or become quite rigid.

Shedding. Show dogs that become nervous in the show ring often “blow their coat”. Dogs also shed a lot when in the veterinary clinic. Although less noticeable in outside settings, such as visiting a new dog park, shedding increases when a dog is anxious.

Panting. Dogs pant when hot, excited or stressed. So, if your dog is panting even though she hasn’t jogged 10 miles in the heat of summer, she may be frazzled.

Avoidance or displacement behavior. When faced with an unwelcome situation, dogs may “escape” by focusing on something else. They may sniff the ground, lick their genitals, or simply turn away. Ignoring someone may not be polite, but it’s surely better than being aggressive. If your dog avoids interaction with other dogs or people, don’t force the issue. Respect his choice.

Hiding or Escape behavior. An extension of avoidance, some tense dogs literally move behind their owners to hide. They may even nudge their owners to prompt them to move along. As a means of escape, they may engage in diversion activities such as digging or circling, or may slink behind a tree or parked car.

Changes in bodily functions. Like people, nervous dogs can feel a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. When your dog urinates shortly after meeting a new canine friend, he may be marking territory and reacting to the strain simultaneously. Refusal of food and loss of bowel function are also stress indicators.

It's All In the Poo


Dr. Donna Solomon

Below are the five qualities that I use to evaluate a dog's stool:

The normal COLOR of your pet's stool is a chocolate-brown. If the stool color is bright red or streaked with red fluid, I would be concerned that there may be blood present. If the stool color is tarry black, I would be concerned that there is bleeding within the gastrointestinal tract. If the stool is very light in color, like tan, I would be concerned about liver disease. If your pet's stool consistently varies from its usual color, please contact your veterinarian.

Your pet's stool SHAPE should be that of a log. If the stool shape is in a small ball or pebble, I would be concerned that your pet is not receiving enough water and may be dehydrated. It is not uncommon for pets with kidney disease to pass small balls of feces because they usually fail to drink enough water to satisfy their hydration status. Older dogs with arthritic hips sometimes are unable to maintain their defecation posture for complete emptying of their rectum. Frequently these arthritic dogs drop small nuggets of stool when they walk or at rest. It is not uncommon for me to add stool softeners, like Miralax, or a fiber supplement, like Metamucil, to make it easier for older arthritic pets to defecate. If the stool sample has no shape what so ever, your pet is suffering from diarrhea.

The CONSISTENCY of a normal stool should be like that of dough. It should be easy to pick up in its entirety and its shape should not be greatly distorted in the process. When you pick up your dog's stool from the grass, you really should not leave any behind on the grass. For cat owners, you should be able to lift the stool from the litter box without it losing shape. Sometimes this is more difficult to evaluate in cats because their feces are covered in litter but if you look carefully you should see a log formation and not a cow pie. If the stool sample is like pudding or no form at all, your pet is most likely suffering from some intestinal problem -- it may be dietary indiscretion (ate something it shouldn't have), bacterial or viral infection, parasites or food intolerance.

If the stool sample is very firm, I would be concerned about constipation. Especially in young, otherwise healthy cats if you see firm stools, I would be suspicious that they are passing a lot of hair in their feces. I strongly recommend to all pet owners to occasionally place a small sample of their pet's stool in a clear plastic bag and squish it. If you are unable to squish it easily, the feces is too firm. See if you can see lots of hair in the feces. If you do, this is an indicator that you may need to brush or comb your pet more frequently. Passing hair in the feces can be very painful for both cats and dogs. Consider adding a hairball remedy, like Petromalt, or an enzymatic product, called Capillex, to your cat's routine to help in the passage of ingested hair. If your dog is passing hard stools, I recommend adding fiber, like Metamucil or bran cereal, to your pet's diet. Frequently recognized abnormal consistency to your pet's stool warrants medical attention. Please bring your pet and a sample of your pet's stool to your veterinarian for evaluation.

The SIZE of your pet's stool sample should be consistent and relative to the amount of food your pet eats. For instance, the size of a Yorkshire terrier's stool will be dramatically smaller than a Great Dane's stool. However, the size of the stool should be consistent for the individual pet. If you have noticed that the volume of your pet's stool has increased, I would be concerned that your pet may not be processing or digesting the food as well as it should. This pet's diet may have an unusually high amount of non-digestible products in it (like plant fiber). You may wish to contact your veterinarian about finding an alternative diet. Alternatively, if your pet's stool volume is reduced, I would be concerned that maybe your pet is not eating as much as it normally has. Another explanation for reduced stool volume would be constipation or a partial gastrointestinal obstruction. If no stool is being passed, I would be concerned that your pet may be suffering from constipation or a bowel obstruction. Please contact your veterinarian to discuss diet, fiber supplementation and stool laxatives.

Really look at the CONTENT of the stool. Does it have anything in it or on it that it shouldn't? Do you see a clear jelly like substance (mucous) on it? This mucous indicates colitis or inflammation of the colon. Do you see undigested food particles, like rice or carrots, indicating that your pet does not digest them well? Do you see hair or grass in your pet's stool? Some pets excessively groom themselves when stressed or have allergies. Some pets eat grass when they have an upset gastrointestinal tract. Do you see any blood in the stool? Do you see spaghetti-like noodles wiggling in your puppies stool? Well, those are round worms and yes, you need to take your puppy to the veterinarian to be dewormed. Anything that is abnormally present in the stool should be addressed or avoided.