Just like humans, certain events and changes to the status quo can trigger stress and anxiety in dogs. These can be big things, like moving to a new home or the loss of a companion, or even things we might consider small, such as when we go out to work or pop to the shops.
Dogs are varied and wildly different. Some might be particularly stoic, hardly bothered by anything, and others might be naturally nervous, timid, and predisposed to react badly to any sort of change.
A recent Finnish study found that 72.5% of dogs surveyed exhibited anxiety-like behaviours, according to their owners. The most common types of anxiety were noise sensitivity, with 32% of dogs showing symptoms, and fearfulness at 29%, notably fear of strangers (15%) and other dogs (17%).
The least common type of anxiety, surprisingly, was separation anxiety, however as this study was reported by their owners, they may not have been present to observe this type of anxiety. The study also found that some anxiety behaviours, particularly noise sensitivity, became more pronounced as dogs age. As owners, it’s our duty to be in tune with what our dogs are feeling, and to limit the impact of adjustments and changes on them. If you think your dog might be stressed or anxious, it’s crucial that you identify the trigger and do whatever you can to minimise your dog’s reaction.
What causes stress in dogs?
There are plenty of potential triggers for stress and anxiety in our dogs.
A change in routine, including less exercise !
Busy public places
Fear, of other dogs or people
Proximity to other stressed animals - including humans!
How to identify stress in dogs
Although our dogs sadly can’t tell us when they are stressed, there are some very obvious (and occasionally less obvious) signs that you can look out for. It’s crucial that owners know and understand their dogs, so it’s immediately clear when they are acting out of the ordinary.
Common signs of stress in dogs include:
Loss of appetite
Barking (particularly at or when moving away from a person or situation)
Diarrhoea (or strangely small bowel movements)
Trembling/shivering (your dog could just be cold or excited, but if these two don’t apply, there could be cause for concern.)
Although these are the most common signs, there are more subtle indicators that your dog is feeling anxious. Keep in mind, these signs could quite easily be due to any number of factors: however, if you notice them regularly, you should look into it further.
More subtle signs of stress in dogs include:
Yawning when not tired
Panting without prompting (particularly with a curved or pointed tongue)
Licking their lips
Ears pulled back
Dilated or red eyes
Very visible whites in their eyes (‘whale eye’)
Most people are in tune with their dog and notice when they are struggling. However, it can be difficult to immediately identify the cause.
If you notice signs of stress in your dog, you should attempt to eliminate likely contributors. If once you’ve eliminated all the potential causes of stress they are still anxious, you should take them to the vet, who can give them a full check-up and identify any deeper issues. If the vet can assure you that there are no medical issues at play, you can then invest in some different strategies to minimise their stress.
As much as we’d like to, we can’t stay home all day, or completely remove the potential for loud, scary sounds. However, there are some effective methods for minimising stress in dogs that are worth looking into.
Tackling stress in dogs
Even if you can’t completely remove the stress trigger, there are still several other ways to make your dog more comfortable and less stressed without turning to strong sedatives.
- Regular walks: just like humans, a tired dog is a calmer dog. If your dog is becoming stressed on walks due to noise or closeness to other dogs, try different routes.
- Toys and puzzles: exercising your dog’s brain is just as important as exercising their bodies. You can distract them from their worrying with toys such as pull-ropes and balls. Puzzles that force the dog to figure something out in exchange for treats are also a great option.
- Give them their own space: crates aren’t just for transporting your dogs and bedtime, it’s highly beneficial for a dog to have a comfortable, quiet space that it can relax in. Make it soft and provide toys and teddies for stimulation.
- Invest in a security blanket or specialised treats and toys designed to minimise stress in dogs.
- If your dog becomes stressed when alone, try playing calming music, or install a camera with a speaker to allow you to talk to them when away.
Not every solution will work for every dog, so try different things and see what works. However, remember that most dogs love routine, so space the different methods apart and try not to overwhelm your pooch.
The importance of diet
Just like with humans, what your dog eats can have a big impact on their physical and mental wellbeing. Your pup needs to eat a diet that’s packed full of protein and vitamins and contains all the things they need to thrive, including carbohydrates, fats, and minerals.
There are some dog foods that are specifically designed to have a calming effect on your dog. Percuro, our clever novel protein dog food isn’t just hypoallergenic and great for skin and fur, but also contains hemp seed oil and chamomile, which have both shown to have an alleviating stress reduction effect. There’s also increasing evidence that mental health is linked with ‘good’ bacteria in the gut. Percuro contains high quality, healthy, and natural ingredients such as yucca, chicory, and beet pulp to encourage a healthy microbiome in your dog.
Overall, Percuro is a great choice for dog parents looking for dog food for mental wellbeing.
Dog food for stress
Minimising stress and anxiety in dogs is a matter of being in tune with your pet, and being able to identify potential triggers, so you can minimise their impact. As always, if you’re worried, you should take your dog to the vet for more comprehensive advice.If you’re ready to join the Percuro pack, head over to our shop to find the right blend for your dog.