Can Stress or Anxiety Cause Diarrhea in Dogs?

Angela Vuckovic
by Angela Vuckovic
Igor Normann/Shutterstock

Dogs are no strangers to stress and anxiety. While most pooches are the picture of the tail-wagging, carefree dog whose only stress is that they have to wait for their next meal, some have it a bit more ruff. Anxiety in dogs can vary from mild to severe, triggered by specific and occasional stressors (such as  fireworks, for example) or present on a daily level. Naturally, your pet’s state of mind has a big impact on their overall health, so it doesn’t surprise that dogs with anxiety often have tummy issues. But does that mean that a stressful situation or anxiety can directly cause diarrhea in dogs? Having in mind that, in a way, your pet’s mental health is connected to their digestion, it sounds highly probable.

How Stress and Anxiety Can Cause Diarrhea

So how does it work? The connection between the brain and the gut, often referred to as the gut-brain axis, plays a crucial role in the overall health and well-being of dogs. When dogs experience stress or anxiety, it can trigger a cascade of physiological responses, including changes in gut motility, secretion of digestive enzymes, and alterations in the composition of gut microbiota. These disruptions can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea.

When stress or anxiety takes hold, it's not just a matter of frazzled nerves. These emotional states can set off a domino effect within your dog's digestive system. Rather than a simple list of effects, think of it as a cascade of events:

Picture your dog feeling anxious during a  thunderstorm or while being left alone. This emotional response triggers a surge of adrenaline, part of the body's "fight or flight" response. Blood flow shifts away from the digestive organs and toward the muscles, heart, and lungs, hastening gut motility.

Meanwhile, the delicate balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut, known as the microbiome, is disrupted by stress. This dysbiosis can lead to inflammation, changes in gut permeability, and an upset stomach.

Furthermore, chronic stress weakens the immune system, leaving your dog more susceptible to infections and inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.

Beyond these physiological effects, stress-related behaviors like excessive chewing,  licking, or ingesting non-food items can irritate the digestive tract, exacerbating diarrhea.

How To Deal With Stress-Related Diarrhea in Dogs

If your dog is experiencing stress-related diarrhea, there are several things you can do to alleviate their discomfort and ensure a speedier recovery.

Before anything else, it’s essential to identify and address stressors. Determine the underlying causes of your dog's stress or anxiety and take steps to minimize or eliminate them where possible. This may involve providing a calm, predictable environment, addressing separation anxiety, or using  desensitization techniques for noise phobias.

Next, support their digestion with a mild, nurturing diet and the right supplements. Your pet’s tummy is upset, so you shouldn’t neglect the importance of rebalancing their gut biome and helping their digestion. Instead of their usual kibble, offer them a bit of broth, some cooked rice, or boiled chicken breast. Additionally, a digestive supplement such as  Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets FortiFlora Powder can work wonders in managing symptoms of diarrhea. With a combination of special probiotics and antioxidants, this powdered supplement will quickly restore your pet’s GI tract and help their stool get back to its normal consistency. And since it’s packed with live microorganisms to benefit beneficial intestinal microflora, it can also help treat excessive gas and other digestion-related troubles, so it’s good to keep stocked in your pet’s first aid kit, especially if they have a sensitive stomach. 

In addition to tweaking their diet during the duration of their diarrhea bout and introducing helpful supplements, you should try to otherwise stick to your usual routine. Dogs are creatures of habit and having a routine will help them feel safe and secure during this time. To maximize their comfort, be sure to provide a secluded spot where they can retreat when feeling unwell and a cozy bed in which they can sleep away their tummy troubles.

In the end, if your dog's diarrhea persists or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms such as lethargy, vomiting, or bloody stools, consult your veterinarian for a thorough evaluation and appropriate treatment.

Angela Vuckovic
Angela Vuckovic

A proud mama to seven dogs and ten cats, Angela spends her days writing for her fellow pet parents and pampering her furballs, all of whom are rescues. When she's not gushing over her adorable cats or playing with her dogs, she can be found curled up with a good fantasy book.

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