Stress in our Dogs: Strategies for Stress Management

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Many dogs enjoy a “spoiled” lifestyle complete with plush beds, tasty treats and lots of affection. Despite these comforts and care, they also often experience stress.

Thunder, fireworks, a new baby or other changes in a household can all have an impact on your dog. Beyond mental distress, these stressful events can have an influence on your dog’s physical health. They can lead to significant digestive upset, with vomiting and diarrhoea.

If your dog appears to be experiencing stress, you should contact your veterinarian to schedule a consultation to fully examine the situation. Your veterinary team is uniquely qualified to make a diagnosis and recommend a comprehensive treatment plan for your pet.

Your veterinarian may recommend some combination or all of the following stress management strategies for your dog.

  1. Take steps to ensure your pet’s and family’s safety – If your pet attempts to escape or run away during a stress trigger, it’s best to move them to a secure location. If your dog exhibits an aggressive response, they should be physically segregated from any potential targets of aggression.
  2. Avoid punishing a dog showing signs of stress – Not only is punishing a stressed or anxious animal inhumane, it will likely increase the dog’s stress.
  3. Identify and manage stress triggers – While altogether eliminating stress triggers would be the ideal solution, it is often not feasible. For example, you can’t control thunderstorms but even when a trigger is unavoidable, you can minimise its impact through environmental modification. For example, during a thunderstorm, you can move your dog to an internal room and play background noise.
  4. Start a behavioural modification programme – You can work to desensitise your pet to a stress trigger by exposing them to a modified trigger stimulus, starting at a very low level and gradually increasing the intensity. Another strategy is counterconditioning: influencing your dog to respond to a trigger in a positive way, feeling relaxed instead of stressed. This can be accomplished by pairing exposure to the trigger stimulus with something pleasurable, like food or toys. Desensitisation and counterconditioning are often combined.
  5. Feed your dog clinical nutrition formulated for stress symptoms – Your veterinarian may also suggest a dietary change introducing a food to help address stress-related digestive upset. A highly digestible nutritional solution formulated with milk protein hydrolysate, prebiotic fibre, and ginger can help to address stress-related digestive upset in small dogs.
  6. Consider lifestyle changes to reduce stress– Just as in humans, regular exercise may contribute to overall stress reduction in your dog. Acupuncture or touch therapy may also be helpful.
  7. There are also a number of helpful products on the market to reduce stress, such as pheromones and gentle pressure body wraps. During your consultation, your veterinarian might also discuss possible drug therapies.

By Jacqueline Neilson, DVM, DACVB

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