How to Know if Your Dog Is in Distress


A dog in distress may exhibit noticeable signs such as loss of interest in food, dilated pupils and licking of the lips. Many different factors can potentially cause distress in dogs, from being left home by themselves to severe physical pain and discomfort.

Body Language Signs

If your dog feels severely anxious or frustrated, he might show it in his body language. Possible physical indications of stress in a canine include:

  • Nose or lip licking
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Salivation
  • Widened pupils
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Shedding
  • Sweaty paws
  • Yawning
  • Squinting
  • Staring
  • Pacing
  • Breath holding
  • Slow breathing
  • Fast breathing
  • Hiding his tail in the middle of his back legs
  • Blinking
  • Scratching
  • Full body shaking
  • Erect ears
  • Tight facial expression
  • Body rigidity
  • Panting
  • Slow wagging of the tail
  • Passing stools, including runny stools
  • Urination

Behavioral Signs

A dog may also display distress through changes in behavior. Behavioral indications of distress can include:

  • Loss of desire to eat
  • Finicky eating
  • Excessive vocalization such as whining, barking or growling
  • Uncharacteristic aggression and defensiveness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Attention seeking
  • Listlessness
  • Hiding away
  • Escape attempts
  • Lack of enthusiasm for play
  • Refusal to follow commands
  • Destructive actions such as chewing on random household items.

Veterinary Attention

Don't ignore potential signs of distress in your dog. Distress can signify many things in dogs, including separation anxiety, fear and even intense physical pain. Being able to identify signs of distress in your dog will not only help you pinpoint and eliminate the cause, but can also help you curb behavioral troubles. It isn't uncommon for stressed pooches to behave aggressively. For example, a stressed-out dog might react to a human approaching him by lunging, biting or barking loudly.

Take your dog to the veterinarian for an evaluation as soon as you observe any possible hints of distress. If your dog is distressed due to illness, veterinary treatment of the root cause may be able to fix it. If your pet is stressed-out due to frustration over being left at home alone for hours at a time or due to fear of thunderstorms or other unusual and loud sounds, the vet can help you explore management options, as well.

If your dog's distress is caused by separation anxiety, your vet might suggest that the furry guy participate in physical activities such as flyball or dog agility -- a canine sport in which dogs run and jump through obstacle courses and aim for speed and precision. Agility is beneficial for teaching dogs teamwork, concentration and conditioning. Your vet might also suggest that you allow your pet to participate in off-leash play sessions with fellow dogs. Insufficient mental and physical stimulation can often lead to stress and anxiety in dogs. The assistance of a professional animal behaviorist or trainer may also be beneficial.


  • Never assume your dog's symptoms are just stress-related. Although fast breathing often denotes stress in dogs, it also sometimes signifies overarching health conditions such as lung disease or congestive heart failure.

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