Stressed dogs: is anxiety wrecking your pet’s sleep?

Many of us suffer from a bad night’s sleep when we’ve had a tough day, but did you know the same can be said for your dog?

Research from a recent study found that negative actions can disrupt pets’ sleep, while positive behaviour often has the opposite effect. Sleep is essential to our wellbeing — and dogs are no different.  We spend good money on products that aid our health and our sleep, and there are plenty of products also available for dogs.

So here’s a closer look into the study and how you can ensure your dog is free of stress before bed.

Research

What exactly did the 2017 study published by Proceedings of The Royal Society B show and how did researchers come to the conclusion that dogs can suffer sleep-disruptive stress? The three-hour experiment was carried out by scientists in Hungary and involved a mix of 16 dogs, including a boxer, Labrador and Shetland sheepdog.

To test the effect of stress on sleep, some of the dogs received ‘positive’ experiences before sleeping. The others endured ‘negative’ experiences prior to resting (all dogs were subjected to both types of experiences). After monitoring the sleeping brainwaves of the canines, researchers came to the conclusion that anxiety plays a part in the ability of a dog to relax and rest.

REM Sleep

The researchers discovered that there was a difference in the amount of REM sleep when they compared dogs following each positive or negative experience. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the more active, lighter resting stage consisting of increased heart rate and quicker breathing. Non-REM is a deeper sleeping stage that provides optimum rest and more regular breathing and heart rates.

Typically, dogs that received a ‘good’ experience — filled with petting, attention and games — managed around an hour of deep, non-REM sleep. Conversely, ‘bad’ experiences — which included isolation from their owner and being approached menacingly — caused the dogs to have only around 40-50 minutes of non-REM sleep.

If you wake up feeling as if you’ve done nothing but toss and turn all night, chances are you have not had an adequate non-REM sleep. Although REM sleep takes up roughly 20%-25% of overall sleep time in adult humans, it’s important that we achieve sufficient non-REM stage in order to get what we’d refer to as a ‘decent night’s sleep’. Research leader, Dr Anna Kis, said:

“We found dogs get less deep sleep after a negative experience. It suggests that, just like humans have a bad night’s sleep after a difficult day, dogs may have a similar problem,” said research leader, Dr Anna Kis.

What else came out of this interesting study into animal stress? The researchers didn’t just find disparities in REM sleep. They also discovered that the animals who had endured negative experiences tended to fall asleep much faster than the canines that had received more pleasant behaviour. Dr Kis explained: “In humans, stress causes difficulty falling asleep, whereas dogs fall asleep more quickly — we think as a protective measure to remove themselves from the stressful environment.”

Interestingly, the study showed that the canines slept for roughly the same amount of time. However, it was the inability for the ‘stressed’ dogs to enter that vital non-REM stage that highlights how negative experiences can harm their emotional state.  

How can you tell if your pet is stressed?


Evidently, there’s a chance your dog can become stressed and this is not good for their health. If you’re concerned, keep an eye out for these stress indicators:

1. Bad behaviour and barking

Many dogs bark in the garden at night or when they think someone is at the door. But did you know barking to excess could signify stress? Similarly, misbehaviour can also indicate stress. Biting furniture or ripping clothes is another indicator that your dog has something on their mind.

2. Losing fur in excess

Are you finding a lot more of your dog’s fur around the home than usual? Keep an eye on this, as it could be a sign that they’re anxious.

3. Panting

Panting is a dog’s cooling down mechanism. However, if you spot that your pooch is panting with their ears back and low on their head for no reason, they might be worrying about something.

4. Yawning and licking nose

Unless they’ve just eaten or taken a drink of water, licking their nose could be a sign of stress. Similar to humans, a dog will yawn when it’s tired, which we now know could be lack of non-REM sleep due to stress.

Ways to de-stress your dog


Senior vice-president of the British Veterinary Association, Gudrun Ravetz, claims that: “positive interactions with our pets are important for their overall health and welfare.” If you’ve picked up on some of the indicators above and aren’t sure what to do, there are a few ways you can alleviate the issue and help your dog.

1. Food

What your dog eats can significantly affect their wellbeing. Giving them food that contains the proper nutrition needed to keep a dog healthy is just one way you can help maintain optimum emotional and physical health. So, check out the advantages of grain-free dog food and make a promise to cut out human treats.

2. Exercise

Being active is a sure-fire way to boost mental and physical health — and that goes for canines and humans alike. If your dog is stressed, extend your walk time by 10 or 15 minutes. Or head into the garden once a day to play fetch. Taking them swimming is a great way to tire out your anxious pooch and an excellent stress booster — granted that your dog actually enjoys the water.

3. Intellectual stimulation

A dog’s brain also needs to be stimulated. There are tangible benefits to ensuring that your dog is intellectually stimulated, such as using puzzle toys. Problem-solving makes a dog feel satisfied and gives greater peace of mind. Boredom can affect a dog just as it can us humans.

4. Establish a routine

Rules and routines work to make your pooch feel safe and secure — excellent stress-reducing factors. It’s good for your dog to know roughly what time you go to work, they get fed, you come home, and they head out for a walk. This will make them feel calmer and more settled. It isn’t always possible but try and maintain some consistency to keep your dog from worrying.

5. Don’t leave them alone for too long

Many of us work long hours, however, leaving your dog at home alone for large chunks of the day can panic them. While some dogs handle being alone better than others, some suffer from separation anxiety. This causes stress. If you can, book them into a doggy daycare centre or ask if a family member or friend can dog-sit for an hour or two to break up their day.

Be vigilant of your dog’s behaviour and implement some of the above stress-reducing methods. Try to create an all-around positive atmosphere in your home to help your dog stay anxiety-free and get a good night’s sleep.

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