Can You Tell If Your Pet Is Stressed?

Since pets can’t quite communicate the way that we humans do, it can be difficult to know when they’re stressed out or feeling nervous.  There are many signs of anxiety and it varies from one individual pet to the next.  Here’s a list we’ve put together of some of the many signs to look for to know you’re pet is uncomfortable or feeling threatened.


Head/face indicators

  • Licking his lips when there is no food present
  • Her eyes are wide (often seen when someone is hugging a dog)
  • Yawning when he’s not tired
  • Turning her head away from you
  • He suddenly starts sniffing at the ground, an object, etc
  • Her normally upright ears are sideways
  • His ears are back and he’s panting

Full body indicators

  • She hides behind her owner or an object
  • His rolls over to expose his belly; this is a sign of submission
  • Unexpected scratching or biting at herself
  • Full body shaking when he is not wet

Tail indicators

Note: Many people think that if a dog’s tail is wagging, it is happy and friendly.  This is not the case.

  • Her tail is between her legs (even if it is still wagging)
  • His tail is swooped low and only the very end is wagging
  • Her normally curly tail is down/straight.

Avoidance indicators

  • He retreats/backs away from a situation
  • She gets up and leaves the room
  • He goes into another room and urinates or defecates (He may also have diarrhea)

If you see your dog demonstrates any of these behaviors, it is best to remove him or her from the situation.  They may only show one indicator that they feel threatened or uncomfortable before snapping at someone-which is not a good experience for you, the other person, or your dogs.



Some common anxiety behaviors include:

  • Excessive hiding from other animals/humans
  • States of unrest, pacing, and unwarranted alertness
  • Elimination (urinating or defecating) outside of the litter box
  • Over-grooming (to the point where they give themselves bald patches)
  • Lack of playtime/physical activity
  • Aggression towards other animals/humans
  • Vomiting
  • Reluctance to eat or drink
  • Following owners around throughout the house/demanding more attention than usual

The extra-tricky part with these behaviors is that many of them can be triggered by medical issues rather than stress.  We recommend that if you see these behaviors in your cat that you schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.  Your veterinarian can run tests to rule out other diagnoses (such as thyroid disorder, intestinal problems, etc.) and go over what may be causing the stress of your feline friend.

If your cat or dog is frequently showing these behaviors, it is best to talk to your veterinarian.  Certain medical conditions may cause behavioral changes (such as thyroid disorder, intestinal problems, etc.).  Your veterinarian can run tests to rule out these other diagnoses.  Even if the doctor diagnoses your pet with anxiety or phobias, there are many steps and treatment options you can discuss with your veterinarian so that your pet can live a happier, more relaxed life!