Interplay: Stress & Physical Health of Dogs

At the BSAVA Congress, specialists in internal medicine and behavioral medicine highlighted the close links between physical and emotional health.

Liquid-mushy heaps are part of everyday life in the boxes of a dog station. Viruses or bacteria are often not behind it, but pure stress. We remember the abdominal pain before anatomy exams. It is probably similar for all mammals: stress increases visceral pain perception and intestinal motility, leading to altered secretion and intestinal permeability. The ability of the mucous membrane to regenerate suffers, possibly also the microbiome. No wonder the mushy heaps can be found everywhere where it gets tiring for dogs: Acute diarrhea occurs in kennels, in animal shelters, or dog boarding houses, but is also known to occur in sled dogs after a race, when traveling, or during stays in hospitals. But stress can also lead to chronic problems like irritable bowel syndrome.

At the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) Annual Congress 2022, held in parallel in Manchester and virtually, several presentations and discussions were dedicated to the close connections and interactions between physiology and emotional health.

Stress affects health

The internist and animal nutrition expert Marge Chandler explained the diverse effects of stress: It affects the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems, and can contribute to diseases of the skin and respiratory tract, but also of the stomach and intestines. Chronically stressed people have been shown to have a shorter life expectancy.

Chandler illustrated the link with a study in greyhounds presented by Laurel Miller and colleagues at the 2008 American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine convention. On the one hand, Miller examined cortisol in healthy dogs that came to the clinic to donate blood and showed significantly higher levels there than in samples that had previously been taken at home. On the other hand, the researchers examined the cortisol levels of the second group of greyhounds that were hospitalized and operated on for a week. The animals that got acute diarrhea that week had higher levels than their peers.

Health has three components: physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being

The brain-body axis is not a one-way street: Physical illnesses can, in turn, influence behavior. The most obvious example is pain. A change in posture, vocalizations, restlessness, or, conversely, lethargy, avoidance of touch, or an aggressive reaction to it: these can all be signs of pain.

However, diseases of the gastrointestinal tract can also result in unusual behavioral reactions: a small study from the University of Montreal presented by Chandler examined dogs that excessively licked surfaces. About half of the animals presented with previously undiagnosed diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.

The speakers agree that physical, cognitive, and emotional health form a triad and are inseparable. If you want to find the right strategies for therapy and prevention, you sometimes need to take a look at the background: Is there a physical illness behind the change in behavior? Does the physical symptomatology possibly have an emotional component? And what is the impact of the stress that the animal is exposed to due to a visit to the vet or a stay in the hospital?

Frequently Asked Question

Can a dog be offended?

Just like humans, your dog can get angry. Your four-legged friend won’t slam the doors or yell at you, but he’ll let you know if something doesn’t suit him. The following behaviors tell you what is going on in your dog and how he communicates it.

Why is my dog licking me?

Dogs show that he trusts this person, feels comfortable, and accept the leadership of the pack by their owner. If the dog licks your hand, he wants to show you that he likes it. But he can also draw attention to himself in a very endearing way.

Can a dog be ashamed?

Floppy Knowledge: Scientists say dogs can’t experience complex emotions like shame, guilt, or a guilty conscience. After a prank, a dog only reacts to the human reaction with its eyes and does not connect this with its misconduct.

Can a dog laugh?

When a dog smiles, it repeatedly pulls its lips back briefly and shows its teeth several times in quick succession. His posture is relaxed. Dogs smile when they greet their humans or when they want to play with them.

Can a dog sense human emotions?

Many dog owners have always believed it, but now behavioral researchers at the British University of Lincoln have proven it: Dogs can distinguish between positive and negative feelings in people. Dogs seem to be able to sense people’s feelings – and not just those of their owners.

Can dogs sense when you’re sad?

Recognizing sadness in dogs

Most of the time he also walks shuffling blinking more than usual and his eyes also seem smaller. However, changes in its behavior are even clearer: a sad dog usually lets it be known by making noises such as whimpering or whimpering that it is unhappy.

Can dogs smell when you’re sick?

Just like human babies, dogs use non-verbal communication to get what they want. Numerous studies have shown that dogs can also detect various types of cancer, including prostate cancer, colon cancer, and skin cancer.

Can a dog watch TV?

Studies have shown that dogs process images shown on television. But: Most programs have nothing to offer dogs. So your dog can recognize pictures on the TV but only reacts to certain stimuli, such as when other animals can be seen.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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