12 Critical and Non-Critical Signs of Stress in Dogs and How to Help

12 Critical and Non-Critical Signs of Stress in Dogs and How to Help

This guide is a valuable resource for recognizing and addressing stress in dogs. Learn the difference between critical and non-critical signs of stress, causes of canine stress, and how to help your dog calm down.  

It’s no secret that understanding and managing stress in dogs is important. Our canine friends might not be able to verbally communicate their discomfort, but their behaviors and physical responses provide clear signals. Recognizing these signs and distinguishing the difference between non-critical and critical stress indicators can help with providing the appropriate support and interventions. 

Recognizing Signs of Stress in Dogs 

Non-Critical Signs of Stress in Dogs 

These signs suggest discomfort but typically don't pose immediate threats to a dog's health. They can usually be managed with environmental adjustments, behavior modification, or natural remedies: 

  • Pacing or Restlessness: Indicates unease, especially when the dog can't seem to find a comfortable spot. 
  • Excessive Barking or Whining: Vocalizing more than usual, often in response to seemingly minor noises. 
  • Panting Rapidly: Panting without a clear reason, such as heat or activity, can indicate stress.  
  • Yawning, Drooling, or Licking Lips Excessively: These behaviors, especially when out of context, signal nervousness. 
  • Shedding and Loss of Appetite: Increased shedding and reduced interest in food can be stress responses. 
  • Avoidance or Hiding: Opting to retreat to a quiet spot or avoiding interaction. 
  • Minor Digestive Upsets: Mild diarrhea or temporary loss of appetite due to stress. 
  • Increased Grooming: Licking themselves or objects more than usual as a self-soothing behavior. 

Critical Signs of Stress in Dogs 

These symptoms indicate severe distress, requiring immediate attention from veterinary professionals or certified animal behaviorists: 

  • Aggression: Growling, snapping, or biting, particularly if this behavior is new or intensified. 
  • Extreme Fear and Panic Attacks: Including rapid panting, drooling, trembling, and desperate escape attempts. 
  • Self-Harm: Injuring themselves through excessive grooming or other behaviors. 
  • Severe Digestive Issues: Persistent diarrhea, vomiting, or both, which could dehydrate or weaken your dog. 
  • Significant Behavioral Changes: Drastic, uncharacteristic alterations in behavior or personality. 

Common Causes of Stress in Dogs 

Causes of Non-Critical Stress in Dogs 

Understanding and mitigating these triggers can prevent stress from escalating and improve your dog's overall well-being: 

  • Being Left Alone: Especially for dogs prone to separation stress, being alone can be distressing. Providing toys, engaging in pre-departure conditioning, or considering doggy daycare can help. 
  • Interacting with Strangers or New Animals: Some dogs are naturally wary of unfamiliar people or animals, which can induce stress. Gradual, positive introductions can mitigate these responses. 
  • Loud Noises: Sudden or loud noises like fireworks, thunderstorms, or construction can trigger stress. Creating a quiet, safe space or using noise-cancelling techniques can provide relief. 
  • Changes in Routine: Dogs thrive on routine, and significant changes can cause stress. Try to maintain a consistent schedule for feeding, walks, and playtime. 
  • Visits to the Veterinarian: Many dogs find vet visits stressful due to unfamiliar smells, sounds, and past experiences. Positive reinforcement and acclimation visits can help reduce this stress. 

Causes of Critical Stress in Dogs 

Recognizing and addressing these issues promptly can prevent the development of severe stress and related health problems: 

  • Traumatic Events: Past abuse, accidents, or negative experiences can lead to lasting stress and fear. Professional behavioral therapy and patience are crucial in helping dogs overcome these traumas. 
  • Chronic Illness or Pain: Undiagnosed health issues can cause significant stress. Regular veterinary check-ups are essential to identify and treat any underlying medical conditions. 
  • Severe Separation Stress: In extreme cases, separation stress can lead to destructive behaviors, self-harm, and escape attempts. Intensive behavioral therapy and, in some cases, medication may be necessary. 
  • Neglect or Lack of Socialization: Dogs that have been neglected or inadequately socialized can exhibit heightened stress responses to everyday situations. Rehabilitative training and socialization efforts are key to recovery. 
  • Environmental Stressors: Overwhelming environments, such as crowded places or homes with constant chaos, may lead to critical stress levels. Providing a calm and stable environment is vital for these dogs. 

How to Calm a Stressed Dog 

Remember, not all stress is harmful; it can sometimes help us avoid danger. For example, dogs have much better senses than humans, and that can come in handy for keeping us safe whether in the home or on a hike in the woods.  

How to Calm a Dog with Non-Critical Stress 

When your dog shows signs of stress, move them to a calm area away from the source of stress. Avoid smothering them with too much comfort. Instead, encourage them to engage in a familiar command like sit or stay before giving treats or affection. This helps distract them and brings a sense of routine. 

  • CBD for Dogs: Full-spectrum hemp extract with naturally occurring CBD can be effective for managing non-critical signs of stress, helping to calm your dog without the use of pharmaceuticals. Always consult with your veterinarian before starting any new supplement. 
  • Environmental Adjustments: Creating a safe, quiet space for your dog can help reduce stress. Consider noise-reducing strategies during loud events, comfortable bedding, and access to water and toys. 
  • Routine and Exercise: Establishing a consistent daily routine and ensuring regular exercise like daily walks or playing fetch can greatly alleviate stress. 

How to Calm a Dog with Critical Stress 

If your dog is frequently stressed, consult a veterinarian to rule out medical issues. They might recommend a behavior specialist or suggest medication for anxiety if needed. 

  • Professional Help: A veterinarian can assess whether there's an underlying health issue contributing to your dog's stress. Behavioral specialists or certified dog trainers can work on behavior modification to address stress, fear, and aggression. 
  • Medication: In some cases, medication may be necessary to manage severe stress. This should be considered after a thorough evaluation by a professional. 

Monitoring your dog's stress enables early action, enhancing their well-being. Utilizing hemp derived CBD for minor stress or consulting experts for serious issues can ensure your dog’s safety and comfort. Stress impacts dogs' health significantly. By recognizing and managing stress signs, you're playing a key role in fostering a well-adjusted and healthy pet. 

Try Charlotte’s Web Soft Calming Chews for Dogs, formulated for canines with a botanical blend of full-spectrum hemp extract, valerian root, passionflower extract and chamomile. 

Learn even more about canine stress at the American Kennel Club.