Most dogs are seen as our easy going companions so it may surprise you to learn that stress and anxiety can affect them in similar ways as it does us. One of those ways is by causing diarrhea. As a veterinarian, diarrhea caused by stress and anxiety can be especially difficult to diagnose, since all other causes of diarrhea need to be ruled out first.
Can stress and anxiety cause diarrhea in dogs?
Just like humans, dogs may experience stress and anxiety, maybe even more often than we realize. Being much more stoic, much less emotive than humans, its sometimes hard to recognize the more subtle signs of stress and anxiety. Also like humans, dogs can experience gastrointestinal upset due to emotional distress. As caring pet owners, it’s natural to be concerned about our canine companions, but there are some things you can do to help, and your dog’s veterinarian can certainly help too.
How does stress result in diarrhea?
Dogs are creatures of habit. They like to stick to a schedule so that they know what to expect day to day. If anything gets thrown off in that schedule, it can be stressful to dogs. Moving, different feeding times, noisy neighbors, less exercise, or the addition of a family member can all shake up a dog’s schedule, creating stress.
Additionally, no one trigger or even collection of triggers are known to lead to stress diarrhea. It’s dependent on the individual. Some dogs’ stress responses are identifiable by obvious behaviors:
- separation anxiety, where they’re nervous or destructive in their owners absence
- high-stress situations, like a dog kennel or fireworks event where dogs are reacting overtly to something specific.
In these cases, stress diarrhea may present within an hour or two of the event.
However, a dog with subtle signs of anxiety on a daily basis (like becoming reclusive, grooming excessively, or quietly following their owner around the house) may have more chronic intermittent bouts of diarrhea.
Common signs of diarrhea caused by stress and anxiety:
Diarrhea caused by stress and anxiety will look the same as diarrhea caused by other reasons. However, if you pay close attention, you may be able to link it with stressful events. You may see:
- Frequent bowel movements (more often than usual, perhaps even accidents in the home)
- Change in stool consistency (softening or liquidity that stray from normal stool firmness)
- Increased defecation (larger volumes of stool at a time)
- Loss of appetite (intestinal inflammation and diarrhea may also lead to nausea)
- Straining (commonly mistaken for constipation, a dog with diarrhea may strain because although the colon is empty, the urge to defecate is still there; this is called tenesmus)
Can stress-related diarrhea be a sign of a more serious underlying condition?
Stress-related diarrhea can sometimes indicate something else is going on that requires veterinary attention. Some things to consider:
- Persistent diarrhea despite appropriate interventions and avoidance of stressors
- Blood in the stool, which may indicate the presence of intestinal damage or other conditions
- Vomiting, which may present if the cause of the diarrhea involves more of the GI tract
- Lethargy – which is often cause for concern
- Other signs of stress, including hiding, clinginess, aggressiveness, changes in appetite, or destructive behavior
4 ways to help your dog at home
If your dog is experiencing stress-related diarrhea, there are several measures you can take at home to provide relief and support:
- Keep your dog hydrated by providing fresh water at all times.
- Reduce stressors as much possible.
- Avoid sudden changes in diet or feeding routine, especially in the midst of an episode of diarrhea.
- Create a safe and comfortable environment for your dog.
- If other conditions have been ruled out, consider adding calming products to your dog’s daily routine
At-home stress interventions
These are some products that may help calm your dog in stressful situations:
- Calming pheromone sprays or diffusers
- Aroma therapeutic calming benefits of all natural essential oils such as Lavender, Chamomile, and Egyptian Geranium
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- Thundershirt for calming body pressure
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- Soothing musical arrangements
- Audio CD – Audiobook
- A comfortable dog bed that provides a cozy cave-like space to hide in
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- Calming supplements, if recommended by your dog’s veterinarian
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- Give probiotics to help balance the digestive system
- Probios microbial products contain live (viable) microorganisms intended to supplement the digestive system of animals.
How do you know when it is time to make a vet appointment?
While mild cases of stress-related diarrhea may resolve on their own, certain situations warrant a visit to the vet:
- If diarrhea persists for more than 24 hours.
- If your dog has repeated bouts of diarrhea, even if separated by days or weeks
- If diarrhea is severe or there is any sign of blood
- If your dog shows other concerning symptoms, like vomiting or lethargy
- If your dog is a young puppy or a senior with a weaker immune system
- If your dog has any other health condition, whether managed by their veterinarian or not
While a single mild episode of diarrhea might not be cause for concern, it’s always ideal to check in with your dog’s veterinarian when you’re concerned. Even if intervention isn’t recommended at the time, they’ll keep a record of previous conversations which can be really helpful if a pattern of symptoms starts to emerge.
How a veterinarian can help with stress and anxiety:
Veterinarians are always working in your pet’s best interest – not just for their physical health but their emotional and mental health too (including stress and anxiety disorders). Your veterinarian can help in numerous ways:
- Your vet will first rule out other causes of diarrhea by running a fecal, blood work and possibly imaging.
- They can work with you to help you narrow down the root cause of your dog’s stress or anxiety.
- Your dog’s veterinarian can recommend appropriate treatments, including prescription medications and diets.
- Offering professional recommendations for behavioral intervention.
What treatments might a veterinarian recommend?
The severity of your dog’s signs and the presence of any other health conditions, can both affect what treatments your veterinarian recommends. In general though, diarrhea treatment in dogs, with or without a link to stress/ anxiety, may involve:
- Fluid therapy (intravenous or under the skin) to regain normal hydration.
- Professional- grade probiotics (good gut bacteria) to support gastrointestinal health.
- Prescription diets, so your dog’s stomach and intestines have an easier time digesting.
- Prescription medications that regulate intestinal movement and/or reduce nausea and vomiting
- Sometimes veterinarians will prescribe antibiotics too, if they suspect a combination of inflammation from stress and an overgrowth of “bad” gut bacteria
If your dog’s diarrhea is due to stress, they’ll likely treat as listed above, and may also add things similar to some of the calming aids listed above:
- Prescription grade calming supplements
- Prescription grade calming pheromone products
- Behavior modification to reduce stress
Many veterinarians prefer to take a multi-modal approach to stress diarrhea in dogs. This means they’re going to tackle the problem from all angles – treating the anxiety, treating the symptoms, and fortifying normal intestinal bacteria to help the body recover faster.
Would a vet be able to help over a video call?
Some veterinarians offer video consultations, which can be a convenient and cost-effective option for certain conditions. A video call could be helpful for an initial assessment and advice on stress-related diarrhea, especially if your dog is otherwise healthy. While diagnostic tests might not be possible through video calls, your vet can still provide valuable guidance.
However, vets will also want to see your dog in order to rule out medical causes of diarrhea. So while a video call may be a possible initial approach, an in-person visit will often be recommended as well.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How can I tell if my dog’s diarrhea is caused by stress or anxiety?
If your dog’s diarrhea coincides with stressful events or changes in routine, it might be stress-related. A vet can help confirm the cause and provide appropriate solutions like those listed above.
Can I manage stress-related diarrhea at home without veterinary intervention?
For mild cases, home care can be effective by managing stressful events using some of the suggestions above. However, if symptoms persist or worsen at any time, or your dog’s diarrhea episodes happen repeatedly over a longer period of time, seeking veterinary advice is necessary.
Are there any preventive measures to avoid stress-related diarrhea in dogs?
You can reduce the risk of stress-related diarrhea by recognizing subtle or overt signs of anxiety in dogs, and limiting potential anxiety triggers. The basics include maintaining a stable home environment, providing regular exercise, and using calming techniques during stressful situations.
Signs of anxiety (overt):
- Excessive barking or whining
- Pacing or restlessness
- Trembling or shaking
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive drooling
- Panting excessively
- Attempts to escape or hide
Signs of anxiety (subtle):
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Excessive licking or chewing on paws or objects
- Avoiding eye contact
- Accidents indoors (even when house-trained)
- Excessive shedding or grooming
- Lip licking or yawning when not tired
- Excessive attention-seeking behavior
- Avoiding certain places or people
- Excessive sniffing, fake sneezing/ snorting, or obsessive digging
- Changes in sleeping patterns (insomnia or increased sleep)
How long does it take for stress-related diarrhea to resolve?
In many cases, stress-related diarrhea may resolve within a single day or within a few days. Identifying and addressing the stressor can help the signs resolve even more quickly. Each dog is different, though, and seeking veterinary advice can help speed up your dog’s recovery.