Signs of Stress

Stress – it’s one of those things that is unavoidable, even in our pets. One of the questions I get asked most often from clients is, “how do I know if my dog is stressed/anxious/in pain?” Well, unfortunately, it’s always a tough question to answer because just like with people, stress isn’t a one size fits all. I will, however, go over some of the more common signs of stress for dogs and cats.

When a dog is stressed, you may see some obvious signs like panting, whining, barking, pacing and drooling. Some dogs may be more prone to gastrointestinal problems, or what we like to call “stress diarrhea” (that’s never a fun one!). Some signs of stress could seem contradictory such as sleeping more vs. restlessness, isolating themselves vs. needing to be around you, or refusing to eat vs excessively eating, but if any of those are a change from usual behaviour, your dog could be stressed.

In cats, you may see behaviour such as vocalizations, excessive grooming, excessive scratching (scratching posts, furniture, etc.) and shedding more than usual. Cats can also be prone to digestive issues (that stress diarrhea again!) and urinary issues – they may urinate outside of their litterbox. You may also see some of those contradicting behaviours that we talked about with our dog friends – isolation, dependency, inappetence, excessive eating, sleeping more, or sleeping less. 

Another sign of stress in both dogs and cats that I wanted to touch on that is a bit scarier than the others, and that one is aggression. Growling, hissing, scratching and biting are all signs of stress as well. 

So you’ve identified that your animal is stressed, now what? 

Well, now it’s time to figure out why your pet is stressed out. Sometimes this is easy – a stranger just knocked on your door, or they get stressed out during car rides – and an easy fix is to take your pet away from the stressor or take the stressor away from the pet. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out why your pet is stressed, but the solution is not as easy as taking away the stressor (newborn babies can be very stressful to long-time family pets). Or sometimes you can’t figure out the reason why your dog or cat is acting so differently and unfortunately, they can’t use words to tell you (it would make our job so much easier though!). For both of those last two situations, it’s okay not to have the answers, that’s what we’re here for! 

Your veterinarian can help you figure out what could be causing your pet so much stress, sometimes it’s a medical reason and it’s important to rule that out. They can also help come up with a solution that fits your lifestyle and your needs. As long as you’re willing to work with your veterinary team, we can do the best we can to reduce the amount of stress in your pet’s lives.

Written by: Sarah Miller, Registered Veterinary Technician