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How to Recognize the Signs of Stress in Your Pet

Humans are well versed in generally identifying signs of stress in other humans. But noting the stress in our pets can be problematic, especially if we are not sure what we are looking for. Notably, dogs exhibit many of the same stress behaviors as humans, but also have some unique ones to their species. Being to accurately read the signs of distress can help us act accordingly to help our furry, four-legged friends and ease their concerns.

When you have had a dog since its puppy age, it's easy to pick up on behavior irregularities. Adopting a dog who is a grown adult or even a senior member of the canine community, presents a bit of an unfamiliarity issue, however. No matter the case, some anxiety indicative behaviors are clear, while others are subtle. Knowing the signs to look for can keep us better prepared to respond to the needs of our pets and to do our best to induce calmness when they are in a stress-vulnerable moment.

To make things a bit trickier, some signs of stress can be due to an underlying illness (which also induces stress). An appointment with your family’s vet is always a good decision to help identify if the stress cause is external or internal for your dog. External stress, as with humans, can have detrimental health effects on the dog, so it is important to know the cause and the methods to subdue the anxiety in order to keep your pet healthy and happy.

Let's take a look at some of the ways we can help identify that our pet is feeling stress and anxiety.

Frantic Pacing

Dogs have very keen senses and if those trigger them to be on alert, the dog may find itself wandering frantically around its abode. The dog may repeatedly stop in the same places, inspect the same areas, or intently check the same windows. It might be the presence of another person or an animal outside that the dog senses and may feel poses a danger to itself or its people. If the dog is wandering around far more than usual, it might be a sign of heightened anxiety.


If a dog suddenly goes rigid, freezing in place, perhaps with their ears perking up, they may have caught a sense of concern. Such behavior indicates that the dog feels the need to be especially cautious, which in turn promotes anxiety and stress. This is a clear sign that the dog does not feel safe and, in his or her own way, trying to be vigilant about potential dangers.

Decreased Appetite

This is a sign that many humans can immediately understand. Often when we are stressed, we do not feel like eating as our stomachs are not actively suited to consume food. Stress tightens muscles and does not induce hunger, even if the time to eat has come and passed. While humans willingly avoid food at times as well (such as during diets), dogs do not abide by such fasting regimens. So if a dog begins to avoid food intake suddenly, a trip to the vet is warranted to check on the dog’s health. It could be an underlying health condition which, if not treated could have the dog refuse food, losing much of its body weight.

Excessively Sweaty Paws

We sweat when we are stressed as the hyperactivity in our cardiovascular system pumps up our body temperature. Dog’s do not sweat often, but when they do, it's from their feet. Some foot sweat is normal, but if it's excessive, to the point that sweat soaked tracks are being left all over the house on an otherwise cool day, the dog might be in distress. Taking a dog’s temperature, in this case, is a good idea in case their body is fighting something off. However, it may also be that the dog is experiencing anxiety from external sources.

Aggressive or Destructive Behavior

A stressed dog can sometimes lash out. Stress makes people do crazy things too, we should understand that effect on a dog very well. When owners leave a dog at home for extended periods of time, the dog often develops severe separation anxiety as they do not consciously grasp that their owner will come back. Very often this is a reason that dogs stress significantly, and can often exhibit such behaviors by being destructive, especially in terms of chewing on things they need to stay away from. The chewing is a sign of channeling frustration from the built-up anxiety. Aside from destroying your property, it can also mean the dog can ingest something harmful, so curbing the chewing is essential.

Dogs can also exhibit stress when they get nippy and aggressive toward owners and/or other animals in the home. While it can be an alarming situation, it really stems back to either perception of a stressful situation or the loss of confidence. The dog is simply racing from a place of fear. If a dog’s temperament changes, it is important for owners to stay calm to soothe the dog and to avoid further escalating the aggression.

Messy Accidents

Stress causes dog’s bodies to often lose control of their bowels, resulting in unexplained bouts of diarrhea or urinating suddenly inside the home, while the dog has already been conditioned to urinate outdoors. When stress affects a pet’s stomach, the dog could feel nauseous and may vomit as well. Vomiting often leads to the dog getting dehydrated, so it is important to keep its drinking water and to go to the family’s vet to find out if there are health concerns.

Isolation/Increased Sleep

If a typically social dog is taking far more time for himself than usual, it is likely exhibiting behavior indicative of stress fatigue. The pet may resist interacting with other animals in the home, or wandering away to an empty room or a remote corner, keeping away from people as well. The most obvious sign is if your dog runs to meet you at the door daily but suddenly stops doing so. Even independent dogs love spending time with their humans, so if a dog is no longer by one’s side often, there is a chance it is battling depression on some level.

The dog may sleep more often too, another form of escape from the interaction. Their body is looking for a way to combat fatigue, and it does so frequently by assuming a dormant state.


It is important to understand and consider these behaviors and physical signs of distress. Stress affects the function of the body as a whole and could have detrimental effects on our beloved pets. The most important part is to soothe the dog with calm behavior, affection, praise, and assurance that everything is fine and safe. Of course, a trip to the vet to rule out illness is always advised.