Is Your Dog Too Stressed to Sleep?*

*This is a collaborative post*

Have you ever had a restless night’s sleep or just laid awake for hours worrying about tomorrow? Most of us will relate to this, but did you know that you might not be the only one? Just like us, our dogs are also kept awake at night due to stress and worry.

According to a 2017 study published by Proceedings of The Royal Society Bcanines suffer a worse night’s sleep when they’re feeling anxious or stressed. After monitoring tests, researchers found that the dogs who enjoyed positive experiences managed to get a good hour of deep and consistent sleep whereas those that didn't had fitful sleep that they awoke quickly from. 

A quality night’s sleep is vital for our mental, emotional and physical well-being - so how can we make sure our pooches are stress free when they head to bed?

The 2017 Study

Scientists in Hungary carried out the three hour experiment on a mix of sixteen dogs which included a Labrador Retriever, Shetland Sheepdog and Boxer. Some of the dogs received 'positive experiences' before rest which included things such as petting, cuddling, receiving attention and playing games. Some of the other dogs endured less positive experiences such as being isolated from their owner. This was to test the effect that stress has on sleep, and to see how both positive and negative experiences can play a role. After monitoring the sleeping brainwaves of the canines, researchers came to the conclusion that anxiety plays a part in a dogs ability to relax and rest.

The dogs that received a ‘good’ experience managed around an hour of deep, non-REM sleep. On the other end of the spectrum, the canines who were isolated from their owners had only around 40-50 minutes of non-REM sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is the more active, lighter resting stage consisting of increased heart rate and quicker breathing, while non-REM is a deeper sleeping stage that provides optimum rest and more regular breathing and heart rates. Although REM sleep takes up around 20%-25% of overall sleep time in adult humans, it’s important that we achieve the non-REM stage in order to get what we’d refer to as a ‘decent night’s sleep’, free of tossing and turning.

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.”

Interestingly, after a negative experience, the dogs in this experiment tended to fall asleep much faster than the canines who had received a more pleasant pre-sleep time. 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.”

Although the dogs all slept for roughly the same amount of time, it was the inability for the ‘stressed’ dogs to enter that vital non-REM stage that highlights how negative experiences can adversely affect their emotional state. 

The Tell-Tale Signs Of A Stressed Dog

Our pooches, much as they may try, can't exactly tell us what's on their mind. Of course they can run to the back door when they need the bathroom, or nudge their food dish when they're hungry, but if they're feeling anxious it can be harder for us to spot. Yet identifying if our dogs have a problem is the first step in helping them. Keep your eye out for the following stress indicators:

More commonly known as a way to cool down, you only need to worry if your dog appears to be panting for no reason, with their ears back and low on their head.

Did you know that excessive barking could be your dog’s way of telling you that they’re anxious? Perhaps bear this in mind the next time you hear a neighbour’s dog barking in the back garden for hours and think it's nothing more than a nuisance.

Damaging behaviour
Is your dog suddenly misbehaving? Biting furniture or ripping clothes is another indicator that your dog has something on their mind.

Extreme moulting
All dogs shed their fur now and then. But if you’ve noticed more fur around the house than usual, they might have a stress-related problem.

Licking nose
If your dog is constantly licking their nose and lips and they haven’t just eaten, this could also be a sign of anxiety.

Considering the study we looked at above, this indicator is an obvious one. Watch your dog for signs of yawning as this could let you know that they aren’t getting as much deep, non-REM sleep as they should.

How To De-Stress Your Dog

According to Dr. Kis, consistently poor sleep could stop your dog ‘consolidating memories’ and hinder them ‘dealing with their emotions’, which might make them more aggressive. In agreement is senior vice-president of the British Veterinary Association, Gudrun Ravetz, who said: “We know 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, don't panic, there are a few ways you can alleviate the issue and help your dog.

Like a lot of children, dogs thrive on routine and rules. If your dog gets to know roughly what time you'll go to work and come home, and when they're due to get fed and walked, it’ll make them feel calmer and much more settled. Of course this isn’t always possible, but try and maintain some consistency to keep your dog from worrying.

Diet and exercise
Humans and dogs alike benefit from exercise both physically and mentally. So if your dog is stressed, extend your walk time by ten or fifteen minutes, or at least head out into the garden once a day to play fetch or similar. Swimming is also a great way to tire out your anxious pooch and is an excellent stress reliever, granted that your dog actually enjoys the water of course. 

Don't forget to also take a look at what your dog is eating and make changes if necessary, if you're not sure then check with your dog's vet. These changes could simply mean switching to grain-free dog food or cutting out human treats which can be harmful to canines.

This is tricky for those who have pets and work full time, but try where you can, not to leave your dog for long periods during the day. While some dogs handle being alone better than others, some suffer from separation anxiety which causes stress and panic. If you can, book them into a doggy day care centre or ask if a family member or friend can dog-sit for an hour or two to break up their day.

One last pointer, dogs are extremely perceptive and can pick up on bad atmospheres easily. So, it’s worth bearing in mind that if there’s a negative vibe in your home, your dog will be affected by it, too. 

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