Is My Dog Emotionally Distressed?

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    Just like humans, dogs are just as capable of experiencing complex emotions and stress. A variety of lifestyle changes can lead to a dog’s emotional distress. It’s important to understand these signs so you are able to intervene and help to navigate your dog’s emotional distress as best as possible. Read below for signs of emotional distress in dogs: 

    1. Behavioral Changes

    dog sitting in a living room surrounded by pillow fluff that they tore up from being emotionally distressed

    There are a variety of behavior changes that may indicate your dog is experiencing emotional distress. Some dogs may show more signs of aggression that have not been previously displayed. Others may start participating in destructive behaviors including urinating and defecating in the house or chewing on furniture and other items. Another behavioral change to keep an eye out for is a decreased desire to play, go for walks, or engage in physical activity. In some cases, this may be a plea for attention, especially if a big life change just occurred such as a move, a new baby, loss in the family, etc. However, you may want to consult a veterinarian to eliminate any medical problems, especially if the issues cannot be attributed to any major life changes. 

    2. Changes in Eating Habits

    yellow lab holding a dog bowl

    Eating habits and changes associated are key to understanding your dog’s emotions. One of the major signs of anxiety and depression in dogs is a decreased appetite. A dog acting more hungry than usual or increased begging may be a sign of boredom, attention-seeking, or an emotional disorder. If health issues can be ruled out by your vet, be sure to give your dog extra attention and care to ensure they’re happy and enriched. 

    3. Changes in Sleep Patterns

    pug sleeping on the ground with tongue sticking out

    If your dog’s time spent sleeping has increased, they may be feeling bored, depressed/emotionally distressed. The average adult dog spends 12-14 hours a day sleeping, but take note of your dog’s usual sleep schedule as this varies on an individual basis. If your dog’s suddenly sleeping the entire day or acting restless, they may be missing you or feeling down due to a life change. 

    4. Body Language

    chihuahua sitting and showing signs of being emotionally distressed

    Your dog’s body language is a critical indicator of how they’re feeling. Signs of a stressed or upset dog include flattened ears, a tucked tail, a low bent neck, and downcast eyes. Shaking, hiding, pacing, and panting can also indicate that your dog is scared, anxious, or emotionally distressed. 

    5. Excessive Shedding

    pile of gray dog fur on the ground with a red grooming brush next to it

    Dogs often shed when put in stressful and anxiety-inducing situations such as the vet, car rides, and new places. This is because when your dog is stressed the primary stress hormone, epinephrine, which is basically adrenaline, is released. This stress response leads to the shedding of the hair. 

    6. Excessive Licking

    dog licking it's lips

    Licking is a natural behavior of dogs to a certain point. However, some dogs who suffer from stress or depression will excessively lick causing bald spots, sores, and even digestive problems. The act of licking increases endorphins in the dog’s brain which calms them while licking. Consult your vet to rule out any medical conditions as excessive licking may also be a sign of allergies or gastrointestinal issues. 

    7. Whining or Barking

    husky dog howling

    Whining or barking is a dog’s primary form of communication. This may increase when dogs are under emotional distress. If your dog is whining or barking while experiencing emotional distress, they may be attempting to get your attention or self-soothe. For some dogs, this barking/whining is an automatic response in a stressful environment. 

    8. Pacing or Shaking

    beagle outside shaking off water

    Many dogs may pace or shake when agitated or stressed because they simply can’t settle down. However, pacing can be a sign of dementia in senior dogs while shaking can be a sign of neurological issues. Pacing and shaking should be observed closely and discussed with your vet. 

    Dogs are able to communicate with us in a variety of ways. It’s important to familiarize yourself with your dog’s normal behaviors so you’re able to observe when they may be distressed. Keep these signs in mind when it comes to your dog’s emotional distress. If you think your dog may be experiencing emotional distress, consider contacting a behavior specialist from our specialist directory. 

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