Just like it does in people, stress can cause a lot of trouble for pets.If you don’t address it quickly and properly, it can lead to major issues down the line, especially if you have an older dog or one who already has health issues. “The best way to watch for stress in your dog is to closely monitor their behavior,” says Dr. Jessica Trimble, DVM, an internal medicine veterinarian with Fuzzy Pet Health. “Many dogs will pant, pace, whine or yawn more frequently. Watching their ear, head, and tail position can also help indicate how comfortable they are with a situation.” If you think your dog is experiencing stress, talk to your veterinarian, especially if you notice changes in his behavior, eating habits or energy. Here are things to watch out for if you suspect your dog is stressed.
Stress Can Cause Tummy TroubleWhen your dog gets stressed or anxious, the nervous system kicks up a notch due to the increased adrenaline and stress hormones, according to Trimble. “This doesn't affect just the brain, though—the gastrointestinal system has a large number of nerves,” Trimble says. “The increased activity of the nerves cause spasms of the intestines; the stress hormones can direct blood away from the intestines; this causes diarrhea and/or vomiting-sometimes immediately, but it can occur up to 48 hours after the stressful event.”
Stress Affects the Immune SystemStress can negatively affect the immune system, which can make it more likely for them to get sick. Stress hormones cause a decrease in the production of certain white blood cells that create antibodies and fight off bacteria and viruses. This is part of the reason that dogs in boarding facilities pass diseases around-they are stressed about being away from home and in close contact with other dogs-and their viruses.
Stress Can Affect AppetiteShort-term stress can change your pet's interest in food, according to Jackie Maffucci, a PHD neuroscientist and animal behavior consultant at Positive Dog Solutions. “Chemicals such as adrenaline and noradrenaline are released, which causes an increase in heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure-your acute stress response,” says Maffucci. “When all of this is happening the functions in the body affected by the parasympathetic nervous system, such as appetite, are depressed.” For long-term stress, however, the exact opposite might be true. “Chronic but milder stress can cause an increase in appetite-cats especially like to stress-eat,” according to Trimble.
Stress Can Cause Inappropriate UrinationIf your dog is suddenly urinating inside the house or your cat is not using the litter box, these could be signs of stress. “For dogs and cats both, stressors can lead to regression on training-they literally forget their potty training in times of stress because they're focused on what is making them anxious,” says Trimble. “For cats, stress can cause something called "FIC"-feline idiopathic cystitis-which basically means bladder inflammation; inflammation in the bladder causes the need to go more frequently, and often will result in urinating in inappropriate places.”