We all know how stress can affect our mood, health and well-being. But did you know that our furry friends can also experience stress and anxiety? Dogs and cats are sensitive creatures that can react to various situations and stimuli in their environment. Sometimes, stress can be beneficial and help them cope with challenges or dangers. But other times, stress can be chronic and harmful, leading to behavioral or health problems.
So how can we tell if our dogs and cats are stressed? Unlike humans, they cannot tell us how they feel or what is bothering them. But they do have ways of communicating their emotions through their body language, vocalization and behavior. Here are some common signs of stress in dogs and cats that you should look out for:
1. Panting or drooling
Dogs pant when they are hot, excited or stressed. Panting helps them cool down and regulate their body temperature. But if your dog is panting excessively, even when it is not hot or after exercise, it could be a sign of stress or anxiety. Panting can also be accompanied by drooling, which indicates that your dog is nervous or uncomfortable.
Cats do not pant as often as dogs, but they may do so when they are stressed, scared or overheated. Panting in cats is usually a sign of respiratory distress or cardiovascular problems, so you should consult your vet immediately if you notice this symptom.
2. Hiding or cowering
Dogs and cats may hide or cower when they feel threatened, insecure or fearful. This is a natural response to avoid potential harm or confrontation. Hiding or cowering can also be a sign of submission or appeasement in dogs, meaning that they are trying to avoid conflict or aggression from another dog or person.
If your dog or cat is hiding or cowering more than usual, it could mean that they are stressed by something in their environment, such as loud noises, unfamiliar people or animals, changes in routine or household, etc. You should try to identify the source of stress and provide a safe and comfortable place for your pet to retreat to when they need some space.
3. Loss of appetite
Dogs and cats may lose their appetite when they are stressed, anxious or depressed. This is because stress can affect their digestive system and cause nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Loss of appetite can also be a sign of other medical conditions, such as dental problems, kidney disease, infections, etc.
If your dog or cat is not eating as much as usual, you should monitor their food intake and weight closely and consult your vet if the problem persists or worsens. You should also make sure that your pet has access to fresh water at all times and offer them tasty and nutritious food that they enjoy.
4. Changes in eyes and ears
Dogs and cats can express their emotions through their eyes and ears. When they are stressed, they may show signs of fear, anxiety or aggression through their eye contact, pupil size and ear position.
For example, dogs may avoid eye contact or look away when they are stressed, scared or submissive. They may also show the whites of their eyes (whale eye) when they are uncomfortable or threatened. Their pupils may dilate when they are aroused, excited or fearful. Their ears may flatten against their head when they are afraid or submissive, or prick forward when they are alert or aggressive.
Cats may stare intensely at something that is stressing them out, such as another cat or a predator. They may also have dilated pupils when they are scared, angry or playful. Their ears may flatten sideways (airplane ears) when they are frightened or annoyed, or swivel back (helicopter ears) when they are curious or attentive.
5. Excessive licking or grooming
Dogs and cats may lick or groom themselves more than usual when they are stressed, anxious or bored. Licking or grooming can be a soothing behavior that helps them calm down and cope with stress. It can also be a displacement behavior that helps them redirect their attention from something that is bothering them.
However, excessive licking or grooming can also be harmful for your pet’s health and well-being. It can cause skin irritation, hair loss, infections or wounds. It can also indicate an underlying medical condition, such as allergies, parasites, hormonal imbalances, etc.
If your dog or cat is licking or grooming themselves excessively, you should check their skin and coat for any signs of problems and consult your vet if needed. You should also try to enrich your pet’s environment with toys, games and activities that keep them mentally stimulated and physically active.
Stress is inevitable for both humans and animals, but it does not have to be detrimental for our pets’ health and happiness. By recognizing the signs of stress in dogs and cats and providing them with proper care and support, we can help them cope with stress and enjoy a better quality of life.