Dog Stressed?

Is Your Dog Stressed?
By Dr. Jeannie Thomason

© Junojess | - Fearful Puppy Photo

Many different things can cause your dog to stress or become anxious, just a few are: trauma, change of routine, boredom, separation and even poor, inadequate nutrition. Hopefully, making you aware of  some of these things will help you to minimize stress in your dog’s life.

I truly think we should be looking at life as a dog much more closely than most people do.  Try to see things from the dog’s perspective.  They are not really as human as we like to think they are.   Think about it, even if they were more human like, how would you feel having to live like a dog in a human’s world?   You would have to spend a lot of time indoors and by yourself – especially if your humans work full-time and away from the house. You could not go grocery shopping or better ye, most likely you would not be able to hunt your own food, you would have to depend on your humans to provide your meals for you, no choice of what you could eat.  Most likely your daily fair would be kibble – basically junk food with no nutritional value and just empty calories so the lack of nutrition would leave you always hungry and you begging for something to truly fill you up.  It is not like you can talk and tell them how great that raw chicken would taste as you drool looking them preparing to cook and eat it themselves.  How would you feel if your humans left you home in the house with plenty of toys but no one to interact with you and the toys, or what about wanting to go for a walk or run in the fresh air and sunshine but the humans come home tired and stressed out themselves?  If they are nice enough to take you for a walk,  then it’s always right back to the house with nothing much to do. Just the boredom sometimes would stresses you out.  Most owners, don’t really understand that lots of other things can stress you out too. If they leave you in a kennel when they go on vacation, that’s stressful. When you are exposed to other dogs that are aggressive or threatening towards you, that stresses you out. Maybe you have hurt yourself or don’t feel good – how do you get them to understand?  What if they ignore you when you beg for food or attention?  They just are not getting it.   You make not like the vibrations and noise of a thunder storm or fire works –  that equals stress when you are subjected to them.

Occasional stress is really just a normal part of a dog’s life, just as it is in human life, and it is usually not the cause of any long-term problems. However, stressful events or circumstances that are constant or are repeated can lead to symptoms of chronic stress and take an emotional and often a physical – toll on a dog, just as it does on people.

Stress and Nutriton

Stress and nutrition have always been linked – it’s a fact.  A dog being fed a raw, healthy and balanced diet is  far less likely to be stressed than a dog fed  a nutrient poor, processed diet. 

Processed pet food – kibble and canned diets alike contain overly high levels of protein, cooked fats and carbohydrates that don’t contain any vital minerals, vitamins or enzymes, necessary for our carnivore companions to thrive.  The stress on the digestive system, glands and organs, over time, this stress will alter the internal environment and compromise the immune system. Reducing stress is all about a balance of the correct enzymes,  amino acids, vitamins, minerals, etc.  You can read more about the stress caused to the body by feeding kibble (or canned food) by reading the article:  Kibble is kibble is STILL kibble.

Probiotics Link To Easing Anxiety and Stress

Scientists have discovered that the bacteria in the gut somehow communicates with the brain, resulting in a potential cause and/or help for certain mental health issues; including the use of probiotics for  anxiety and stress.

A recent study from UCLA’s school of medicine demonstrated that supplementing  human diets with probiotics have a positive effect on people’s emotional and mental health. Specifically, the study found that after supplementing their diet with probiotics for just four weeks, subjects demonstrated improved processing activity in the area of the brain that is responsible for controlling emotions, sensations and anxiety.  This study also revealed a clear connection between the enteric nervous system, located around the digestive system, and the central nervous system; this finding has opened the door to new possibilities for the connection between how probiotics may be effective in aliveating anxiety.

 “The “good” bacteria are there to control the “bad” bacteria, either by producing substances that inhibit or kill the pathogens or by crowding out the troublesome microorganisms so it is difficult for them to adhere to the walls of the intestine”. Kelly Scott Swanson, PhD, an associate professor in the department of animal sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

Researchers have known for years that stress can have a huge impact on the internal bacterial world. When under stress, the brain senses a threat, glands pump out stress hormones that, among other things, trigger several chemical responses in the gut. As a result, the balance of good and bad microbes may be altered in favor of the “bad” bacteria, says Michaël Messaoudi, scientific and medical director of ETAP, a research laboratory in France. One study, for example, found that a hormone produced when stressed – norepinephrine, increases the virulence of Escherichia coli, a well-known pathogen. Another bad pathogen, Campylobacter jejuni, may also surge when an animal or human is under stress.

The big news: In the past couple of years, scientists have discovered that just as the brain alters the gut bacteria, so too can these bacteria influence the brain. Not only do stress and your moods affect the functioning of your gut, but the bacteria in your large intestine may affect your mood and your emotional response to stress. For instance, animal experiments have shown that rises in Bifidobacteria increase levels of tryptophan circulating in the blood. Tryptophan is a precursor of the feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.

Do probiotics prevent stress and it’s harmful side affects in the body?  It is a good possibility.  Why not increase the amount of good bacteria in your dog’s body naturally by consuming raw green tripe or giving soil based probiotics

Exercise – Stress Reliever

Most dogs do not get near the exercise they require to thrive and be stress free.  Exercise is vitally important to over all wellness and keeping our dogs more stress free. Physical activity helps bump up the production of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Although in humans,  this function is often referred to as a runner’s high, a rousing game of fetch  or a  hike with you can contribute to this same feeling.

Exercise attacks stress in two ways, according to Matthew Stults-Kolehmainen, Ph.D., a kinesiologist at the Yale Stress Center. He states that raising the heart rate can actually reverse damage to the brain caused by stressful events: “Stress atrophies the brain — especially the hippocampus, which is responsible for a lot.

Exercise also promotes the production of neurohormones such as norepinephrine that are associated with improved cognitive function, elevated mood and even learning.

A tried dog is a happy dog no matter how you look at it.

Essential Oils For Noise Phobia or Stress

The use of essential oils for dogs, either in a diffuser in the home, for massage or even in bathing, can help our canine companions to remain calm and relaxed during times of stress. Here is how aromatherapy works with essential oils.

When odors are inhaled, the receptors in the olfactory bulb signal nerves to carry the information to various parts of the brain, including the limbic system which is commonly referred to as the “emotional brain.” The limbic system is directly connected to those parts of the brain that control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress levels, and hormone balance (Higley & Higley, 1998).

It is most helpful to introduce the essential oil to your dog before he/she becomes stressed. I would choose a time when the dog is relaxed, happy, calm and feels safe and then slowly introduce the scent of the essential oil of of your choice. Animals have the same olfactory response as we humans do when ever we smell something for the first time, they will “file” that scent away in their brain and associate it with the emotion they are feeling at the time.  The next time you bring out or diffuse the calming oil of your choice, again,  have it be when he/she is relaxed and calm and then feed the dog it’s favorite treats or give the dog its favorite toy.   You can even put on some soft classical music on low volume (remember dogs have much a much keener sense of hearing than we do so start out the music very low and then build up the volume over a few days to where you can hear it but it is still not loud.

Depending on what noises stress your dog – usually thunder and or firecrackers,   you can purchase and download tracks of these sounds and begin slowly to expose them to the sounds with the volume turned way down and almost off while diffusing the essential oil, petting, treating and/or playing quietly with the dog with the classical music on.  Very slowly over time, turn up the volume on the sound track just a tiny bit at a time and over the period of weeks slowly conditioning your dog to the sound and associating it with the smell of the essential oil and calm fun of having treats or playing your dog should no longer stress out or be phobic of noise.   Note: never go through the conditioning exercises when there is a lot of other noises or commotion in the home or you, your self are stressed.

When a storm is coming or you know fireworks will be going off or what ever the noise is that your dog is fearful of, get yourself in a calm state, get out your music and treats or toys and act as though nothing out of the ordinary is going on at all.  Don’t make a big fuss and tell the dog “poor baby” or draw any attention to the noise its self; just go through the conditioning exercises (minus the sound track of the noise of course) just like you have been.  Trust that you have done all you can to keep your dog stress free and remain calm and happy as you see your dog improve in his/her stress levels declining.


No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the Author/Publisher. All the articles at The Whole and Whole Dog have been researched and reviewed for accuracy. However, they are not intended to be a substitute for diagnosis or treatment from a qualified canine health professional. The Whole Dog, Whole Dog News, and Dr Jeannie Thomason does not assume any legal responsibility for misuse of this article which is intended to be educational only.

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