Dog owners know that although their four-legged friend can’t talk, dogs have a number of ways to show us and other animals that they are stressed. Every dog is unique, so while there are some common signs of stress in dogs, anything out of the ordinary for your individual pup may signal stress. It is important to identify your dog’s stress cues, as well as understand commonly exhibited stress behaviors in dogs to avoid discomfort and potentially dangerous reactions.
Table of contents
- Signs your dog is stressed
- How you can help your stressed dog
Signs your dog is stressed
Being able to recognize cues from your dog that they are stressed can save them from discomfort and avoid potentially dangerous stress responses. Some common signs of stress in dogs include:
1. Posture and facial expressions
Your dog’s body language can convey key information about their comfort and stress levels. A relaxed dog should carry their weight evenly on all four paws. If a healthy dog with no orthopedic problems shifts their weight away from a stimulus or cowers, the ASPCA warns that your dog may be exhibiting stress. You may notice your dog lift a front paw, or lower or turn their head and body away. Other classic visual cues that your dog is stressed include a tucked tail, raised hackles, and pinned-back ears.
Just like humans, dogs experiencing stress may have dilated pupils and show the whites of their eyes, known as whale eye. Curling their lips to reveal their gums, as if in preparation for growling or biting, is also a sign of stress. These cues can be warning signs of aggression, so it is important to take note of situations in which your dog shows their teeth.
If stressed, your dog may bark, whimper, whine or growl, or make some other type of verbal distress signal. Growling is an obvious way to tell if your dog is uncomfortable. Many dogs cannot control their whining and barking when they feel stressed, according to VCA Animal Hospitals. While vocalization is normal self-expression in dogs, it may be intensified when they are under stress as they try to get your attention, fend off a threat, or self soothe.
3. Compulsive behavior
Incessantly repeated behaviors like over-grooming, barking at shadows, and tail chasing can be rooted in stress or in an underlying medical condition, including cognitive decline, notes the Humane Society. Just like in humans, any repeated behavior that gets in the way of regular, everyday life and activities can be caused by stress. Take note of behaviors like pacing and circling, which usually indicate that your dog cannot settle due to stress.
4. Shaking, panting, drooling, and yawning
Shaking, either continuously or a full-body shake-off, is a common sign of stress in dogs. Following a stressful experience like being on the veterinarian’s exam table or encountering an aggressive dog on the sidewalk, you may notice your dog shake as if they are trying to dry off. Dogs often shake their bodies to alleviate physical tension, notes AKC.
If your dog is stressed, they may also exhibit other involuntary behaviors like drooling, yawning, or panting. These are all ways for dogs to calm themselves during stressful situations. Consider the context in which your dog is showing these behaviors—yawning when they are fully rested or panting when they are cool and not exercised can indicate that they are stressed.
Is your dog shedding suddenly, and a lot? Just as humans may lose hair during a stressful time in life, a nervous pup can start excessively and suddenly shedding. This stress signal is often referred to as “blowing their coat,” according to the Village Vets.
6. Activity level changes
You may see a change in your dog’s activity level when they are stressed. Dogs can either become hyperactive or freeze in place and refuse to move. Inability to settle can also be a sign of physical discomfort, so it is important to rule out any health concerns.
When your dog freezes or gets stiff, Welfare for Animals notes that they are often stressed about something they see. Shutting down can be very dangerous for both you and your pup. Freezing is a warning sign that your dog is so stressed that they can’t handle the situation, and the next step may be aggression.
When housetrained dogs start urinating and defecating around the house, owners often think their pup is mad at them. However, stressed dogs can feel a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. On the other hand, experts from the Veterinary Information Network note that refusal of food and loss of bowel function can also be stress indicators.
When faced with an unwelcome situation, dogs may “escape” or avoid the stimulus by focusing on something else. The Veterinary Centers of America notes that they may sniff the ground, lick themselves, or simply turn away. Dogs with severe stress sometimes attempt to hide or run away.
Your dog may also avoid eye contact, which can be misinterpreted as “guilty.” However, the pup is reacting to your voice and body language and thinks something must be wrong. If your dog appears to be avoiding a stressful stimulus, do not force engagement. Forcing a stressed dog to do anything they do not want to do can result in aggression.
Stressed dogs have been known to dig, chew, and destroy anything and everything. Destructive behavior is often associated with separation-related stress, according to the Humane Society. When left alone, a stressed dog can fixate on destructive behaviors, which can be dangerous. Destruction can potentially cause broken teeth, injured paws, and other physical self-harm.
Aggressive behavior such as growling, snapping, or biting is another common symptom of stress in dogs that is often misunderstood. Lashing out often occurs when a dog is afraid of a perceived threat or negative association, according to the Veterinary Centers of America. A need to fend off the threat and or warn others that they are uncomfortable can lead dogs to lunge and potentially bite, which poses a danger to everyone around them.
As you attempt to decode your dog’s body language and behavior, be sure to consider the context of the situation. For example, a dog licking their lips may be expressing fear or stress, anticipating a treat, or feeling nauseous. You know your dog best, so you should always be on the lookout for behavior that seems out of character for your dog.
How you can help your stressed dog
Stress can take a serious toll on your dog, as well as your household. Left unaddressed, stress can escalate to dangerous aggression. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help your stressed dog:
1. Talk to your veterinarian
Common symptoms of stress can also be caused by underlying health conditions. Changes in your dog’s activity level, housetraining, and other behaviors can signal they are experiencing physical discomfort or another medical issue. These health issues can also heighten your dog’s stress, warns Great Pet Care. Consult your veterinarian to rule out and address any possible health concerns.
2. Minimize your stress
Dogs react to their owner’s stress levels, according to research by Anne-Sofie Sundman. Long-term stress can synchronize between a dog and their human, so if you are feeling stressed, losing sleep, or otherwise tense, your pup may be catching on. Helping your dog feel relaxed is just another reason to take care of your own mental and physical health!
3. ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA
Pet parents and veterinarians will agree that stress is not good for the short- and long-term health of you and your dog. ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA chews, soft gels, and oils can address your dog’s generalized stress by interacting with the cannabinoid receptors in their brain to help their stress levels return to a normal balance. CBD and CBDA truly calms without sedating, which is key to allowing your dog to calmly and safely handle stressful situations.
Our research has determined that a 2mg/kg dose of our CBD+CBDA product, given twice each day, is needed to address stress in dogs. Because stress varies between individual canines, we recommend starting at this dose, but we are happy to work with you to find the best dose for your pet if extra relief is needed. Give us a call (844-673-7287) or send us an email ([email protected]). We are here to help!
ElleVet’s Calm & Comfort situational use chews act quickly to provide maximum support to your dog in particularly stressful situations like fireworks or vet visits. When given 1.5 hours ahead of a triggering event, these chews are extremely effective in addressing your dog’s acute level of stress. ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA can lead to improved overall well-being and a reduction of your dog’s stress response over time.
As always, consult your veterinarian about any mental or physical health issues your dog may be experiencing.
Any health or medical information in ElleVet blogs is from a variety of public and reputable sources. This information is intended as an education resource only and is not a substitute for expert professional care.