Alas, dogs face stressful situations daily. And they depend on us to develop coping skills to be able to react in a healthy manner. The state of stress in dogs was one of the key panel discussions featuring leading veterinary and behavior experts at the recent Purina Better with Pets Summit held in New York City.
“Just like us, dogs face good stress and bad stress,” says Marty Becker, DVM, renowned veterinarian and best-selling author who served as this panel’s moderator. “Only when bad stress is chronic does it lead to health problems. Constant stress can be a recipe for illness, depression and a less-than quality of life.”
Some stress is actually good for our dogs, like the stress found in trying to figure out how to get treats out of a food puzzle. It is important to work our dogs’ minds as well as bodies.
Some stress inducers are easy to identify in our dogs, like being inside a crowded waiting room at a veterinary clinic, being chased by a large, aggressive dog off his leash or panting and pacing during a nasty thunderstorm. But as the panelists pointed out, the well-being of some dogs are impacted by stress sources that often go undetected.
How can you tell if your dog is feeling stressed out? Here are some common signs:
• Ears pulled back
• Lip licking
• Tucking in his tail
• Clinging to his favorite person
And, most importantly, remember that our dogs are very good at gauging — and responding to — our moods. They can pick up when we are afraid, anxious or unsure.
“Some dogs suddenly start barking at other dogs on walks the second you get nervous and tighten your grip on the leash,” says Dr. Becker. “Dogs pick up on our emotional cues.”
Fortunately, pet experts are recognizing the impact stress can play on our dogs’ overall health and are taking new steps. As discussed at the Purina summit, here are some innovative stress-busting strategies being adopted:
• Opting for pastel, soft blues, pinks and yellows in shelters and veterinary clinics. “Think Easter colors,” says Dr. Becker. Turns out that studies show dogs are calmer in those colored-rooms than ones painted white or bright red, blue or yellow.
• Enhancing stainless steel exam tables with adding heated pads for the dog to feel warm and have better footing while being assessed by a veterinarian.
• Placing dogs up for adoption at mobile pet events inside cages with horizontal bars instead of vertical ones. It turns out that horizontal bars are less threatening and give dogs better visibility of their surroundings.
• Encouraging people pressed for time to agree to be a shelter volunteer by spending 15 minutes sitting quietly in a room with a dog up for adoption. Experts are discovering that this quiet 15-minute interaction helps lower stress in some shelter dogs.
• Replacing florescent lights with soft LED lights. It turns out that dogs are not only irritated and stressed by the flickering florescent lighting, but are also agitated by the noise these lights make.
Heather Lewis, an animal arts architect who is among the innovative pioneers redesigning veterinary clinics and shelters all over the country, shares this take-home message:
“We have an opportunity and challenge to make life better for all animals, including those in the shelter and our pets,” says Lewis. “It is vital to think about environment from the animal’s perspective.”
By Sarah Zumhofe