Do You Know the Signs of Maladaptive Stress in Dogs?

April 2, 2014 in Aerowood Animal Hospital

A certain amount of stress is normal and healthy in all animals. For dogs, startling at loud, unexpected noises; being a little standoffish with strangers; or keeping an eye on unfamiliar contraptions like walkers may all be normal reactions to somewhat stressful stimuli. However, some dogs experience maladaptive, prolonged, or chronic stress that should be addressed. Maladaptive stress may take the form of separation anxiety, noise phobia, storm phobia, or aggression. Chronic or prolonged stress responses can cause both physical and emotional disease, shortening a dog’s life and degrading his or her quality of life. It can compromise the immune system, results in compulsive behaviors, and even alter the blood flow to vital organs. Knowing the signs of maladaptive stress will help dog owners know when to help their dogs.

Signs of Maladaptive Stress in Dogs:
. Loss of appetite
. Drooling
. Ears held back for prolonged periods
. Pacing
. Panting
. Shaking
. Tail tucking
. Hypervigilance
. Yawning
. Lip licking
. Property destruction
. Self-mutilation
. Looking away from a perceived threat
. Crying or whining
. Inappropriate elimination
. Excessive hiding
. Aggression

The best general strategy for overcoming all anxiety disorders is basic obedience training plus a life full of socialization and activity. Socialization means plenty of opportunity to see different places, different people, and different pets. Add to this a healthy amount of exercise. A dog who knows what is expected of him or her (i.e. trained) and who has a good understanding of the world outside the yard tends to be a more self-confident dog. However, this may not be practical for all dogs or all families, and this is not the full solution for all anxiety disorders.

Other common strategies that can be applied generally include playing soothing music, constant-pressure clothing (such as Thundershirts, Anxietywraps, and Stormdefenders), avoidance, deconditioning strategies, diffuser collars that spray soothing pheromones, and leaving dogs with an article of clothing or blanket that carries the scent of a loved owner.

Some behavior modification strategies can be complex to implement. For challenging cases, consider scheduling an appointment for a behavior consultation. As a last resort, veterinarians can also prescribe different medicines that help keep dogs calm. Depending on the situation, these calming meds can be used regularly, short-term, or as needed.

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