Cavalier King Charles dog in owner's arms

 If your dog is stressed, be calm and reassuring.

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Can stress-induced diarrhoea in dogs be prevented with probiotics?

By Dr. Liz Barton MA, VetMB, MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

Our four-legged friends often get stressed, but with plenty of ideas to reduce this – including probiotics – help for your dog should be possible.

If a dog is stressed or anxious, they may have diarrhoea, they may shake or they may bark persistently. But as their owner, you can certainly help calm them both in the short and long term. Read on to find out about the various ways to reduce your pet's stress.

How long does stress-induced diarrhoea last in dogs?

Diarrhoea that follows a period of stress in dogs can occur very quickly and may only be a single episode. But if the cause of the stress remains and is persistent, then the diarrhoea can also continue for anything from days to weeks.

What is the most common cause of diarrhoea in dogs?

Dietary indiscretion (eating what they shouldn’t) is thought to be the most common cause of diarrhoea in dogs. Yet most causes of diarrhoea are not diagnosed. There are many viruses, bacteria and parasites that dogs can pick up, some of which can lead to self-limiting diarrhoea, or a more persistent and severe form. Stress is also a common cause of diarrhoea, but is usually mild and self-limiting unless the stress is persistent.

Can stress and anxiety cause diarrhoea in dogs?

Stress and anxiety can indeed cause diarrhoea in dogs, in much the same way that both stress and anxiety can cause an upset stomach in people.

What are the signs of stress in a dog?

Stress can include clinical symptoms such as diarrhoea, reduced appetite, shaking and panting. Behavioural signs are common, and can include isolation and withdrawal, or manic behaviours such as persistent barking, whining, pacing or even self-trauma such as excessive grooming. Your dog may also show destructive behaviours such as the chewing of furniture, or urinating or defaecating inappropriately. It is important to recognise these are symptoms of stress and not to punish your dog, as this will increase the level of stress and potentially make the problem worse

How do you comfort a stressed dog?

Stress can cause a number of different behaviours and symptoms in dogs. To comfort your dog the first thing to do is remain calm and reassuring. You want to make them feel safe, without either rewarding them or telling them off for negative coping behaviours. The best thing to do is remove or reduce the stressor and/or distract them from it. For example, if a dog if stressed because of fireworks, closing windows and curtains, and turning up the radio or television to drown out the noise may help.

If they are still worried, playing a game can help to distract them, and showing you’re not worried by staying calm and reassuring. If they are too stressed to play games, then providing them with a safe, secure place to hide – e.g. covering their crate and putting their favourite toys in it – can provide some comfort. Do not force your dog to come out if they are very worried, as this can increase their stress levels.

How can I relieve my dog's stress?

If you know of a stressor for your dog, the best things is to remove it, or train them to ignore it. This takes time and patience, and is best done when a dog is young. For example, dogs can be desensitised to noise stress by playing sounds of gradually increasing intensity. It is best to get advice from a dog behaviourist or a vet about how to reduce stress behaviours. Thundershirts can be useful to reduce noise stress. Pheromone diffusers mimic calming hormones in dogs and can help. In the most extreme cases, medication from the vet may be used to reduce stress and anxiety.

How do you comfort an anxious dog?

To comfort your dog the most important thing is to remain calm and reassuring – show them you are not stressed or worried, as they will pick up on your anxiety. You want to make them feel safe, without either rewarding them or telling them off for negative coping behaviours. The best thing to do is remove or reduce the stressor and/or distract them from it. Provide them with a safe, secure, familiar space where possible. Pheromone diffusers can also be used to reduce stress.

What dog breeds are prone to anxiety?

Active breeds with a high adrenaline drive, such as working dogs, commonly suffer from anxiety. These include german shepherd dogs, Staffordshire bull terriers, Border collies, Siberian huskies, Bichon Frise, weimararners, pointers and labradors.

What is the best calming aid for dogs?

Provide them with a safe, secure, familiar space where possible. Giving them familiar toys or items of your clothing with your smell on them (not washed) will reassure them. Pheromone diffusers may also help.

How do probiotics help your pet control stress-induced diarrhoea?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when delivered in adequate amounts, give a health benefit to your dog. There are several possible positive effects of probiotics, including the following: modification of the gut flora, strengthening of the gut barrier and supporting the immune system. Studies have indicated that there may be a benefit in respiratory and ocular disease, as well as gut problems.

When should I talk to a vet?

If you dog is unwell, lethargic and not eating, then it is important to contact a vet as diarrhoea may have a more serious and urgent underlying cause. If your dog is otherwise bright, well and eating, then feeding a bland diet and ensuring they are well hydrated for a few days may allow a mild, self-limiting diarrhoea to settle.

How should I talk to a vet about probiotics and stress-induced diarrhoea in a dog?

Once you've contacted a vet, they will want to obtain a full clinical history and may want to examine your pet before recommending probiotics. Not all probiotics are equal and only a few have undergone clinical trials to prove they are effective. The vet will advise on the best available probiotic to help your dog recover. Additional supportive treatment, including a highly digestible diet, vitamins and sometimes prescription medication may be recommended.

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