Research Finds Fear And Anxiety Negatively Affects Dogs Health And Lifespan

We all know that stress does bad things to us. From ulcers, to heart attacks, strokes, and those dreaded grey hairs; stress hormones wreak havoc on our systems! But what about our dogs? Is it possible the same deadly diseases can plague Rover if fear, anxiety and stress become part of his daily routine?

According to Stanley Coren, scientist and author of books such as Born to Bark and The Wisdom of Dogs, the answer is yes! Coren confirms this concept has been researched and the findings show that stress can in fact impact the health of our pooches.

Pennsylvania State’s Dr. Nancy Dreschel of the Department of Dairy and Animal Science conducted the study that involved 721 dogs who had passed away within the past five years. She recruited volunteer parents through a somewhat grassroots approach; posting flyers at grocery stores, veterinary clinics, and public places.

Related: Could Music Ease Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety?

Respondents provided a perfect mixed bag of pet parents who had owned different sizes, shapes, weights and ages of dogs as well as a combo of pure and mixed breeds. All were asked to complete a rather lengthy, 99-question survey about their pooch with the final results proving pretty conclusive about the impact of stress and other lifestyle choices.

From the onset, almost all dogs had been obtained for companionship and for that reason were well cared for. Most (a whopping 89 percent) had received formal training at home or through classrooms, in obedience – which most owners felt had been successful and resulted in their pooch being quick to respond to commands.

Related: 5 Stress-Free Ways To Deal With Dog Separation Anxiety

This is where it gets interesting. The average age at time of death was 11.6 years and the most common cause of death (in 38 percent of the dogs studied) was cancer – which supports the findings of other studies.  But it also showed that neutered dogs lived an average of 2.3 years longer than their unneutered counterpart – a hotly debated topic among animal research specialists. In this instance it seems the stats support the idea that there is a benefit to companion dogs that get the old snip-snip.

The lengthy survey resulted in a wealth of data being ranked, tracked, and factored into the findings including size and weight, which is already known to influence lifespan. Curious as to how behavioral and emotional factors figure into it?

Remember the question about obedience training? So many pet parents confirmed Rover had successfully completed some form of training and responded well to commands. A series of questions regarding his behaviors asked specifically “how well behaved” they thought their dog was.

It seems similar past research picked up on the fact that anxious and fearful dogs were often described by their owners as “not well behaved”. Adding this question to the mix gave researchers a better sense of the dog’s general emotional state rather than his obedience.

Here’s where it comes together. Apparently the dogs described as being well behaved lived longer and according to Dr. Dreschel: “Well-behaved dogs may live longer because they may be under less stress, living in a more harmonious household.” Additionally, questions related to how their pooches responded to strangers also resulted in some interesting stats. Dogs that showed fear and anxiety around new faces were also more likely to have a reduced life expectancy.

Because few pets are autopsied on death, researchers had to work with information provided by owners who were sometimes speculative as to what caused their pet’s demise. But while there is a bit of a question mark around that part of the research, there are in fact some symptoms of stress related diseases that are highly visible in pets and tend to mimic those found in humans suffering from stress-including skin problems.

Dr. Dreschel summarizes her work by saying, “It was hypothesized that stress caused by living with anxiety or fearfulness has deleterious effects on health and lifespan in canines. The findings indicate that fear, specifically the fear of strangers, is related to shortened lifespan.”

[Source: Psychology Today]


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