Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Disrupted sleep cycles can be a result of and a clue into how much stressful events affect dogs

“Bumble has been behaving oddly the past few weeks, and I’ve been concerned about that, given that she’s so young and has been healthy. She’s been urinating in the house, and at times seems so touchy. You know her pretty well -- any ideas??”

This was an email that I got a few weeks ago, and the question, well, it’s not all that unusual.

I decided to call Bumble’s human, rather than email back, since it seemed like the best way to get to a solution. We chatted for a bit, talking about what was going on in her family’s life, and then I asked some more questions that ranged from if there were any changes in the dog’s appetite, her water intake, bowel movements, any disinterest in her usual favored things or activities, apprehension with other pets -- any small detail. A couple of things had accompanied the inappropriate elimination, including some sleep changes and being withdrawn at times. She even snapped at the vet staff -- something that was very uncharacteristic of her, as she loves going to the vet -- to have an exam to get to the bottom of any possible health issue behind the behavior changes. Plowing forward, I helped Bumble’s human whittle down things even more: was there a pattern to these things happening? When did they start? Does the intensity increase at any time?

In the end, we figured out that, after an unfavorable interaction with another dog that occurred weeks before (Bumble was bitten and required a few stitches and an antibiotic for a bite wound to her leg), she hadn’t been herself -- that’s the time that the behavioral changes started. Putting everything together, it all made sense. But one thing -- the sleep changes -- were especially telling.

A recent study on how stressful experiences affect a dog’s sleep drive home this point. Researchers from the Family Dog Project wanted to see if stress affects sleep, and just how much. The results, which were derived from observing 16 dogs, divided into two groups (one-half having a good interaction, the other an unfavorable one) over a period of days. You can learn more about the study by clicking here.

We know that sleep is important for a lot of things, and during all stages of life. It’s especially vital when we are trying to heal from an injury (as in Bumble’s case) or navigating a stressful period. A secondary issue that Bumble’s family faced is that they were losing sleep because of Bumble’s tendency to be restless at night.

After implementing some strategies that I suggested (with her vet’s input, blessing and oversight) to help Bumble manage the after-effects of the traumatic event that she encountered, the sweet pooch was able to settle into a more normal routine and get back on track.

The takeaway: when a pet is expressing behaviors that are new to us, and troubling or less-than-we-expect from them, we can’t opine that they are doing so out of spite, or anger or other very-human reaction. Pets are great communicators, and if we are paying close attention to the details, we can often get to the root of what is going on. We also can’t discount the importance of sleep, for every member of the family.

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care and is also a Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion. She's a member of Doggone Safe (where she completed the Speak Dog Certificate Program), as well as the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care, Pet Sitter International and Pet Professional Guild. She tweets at @psa2.

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