Just like us, dogs can get too stressed for a good night’s sleep, according to recent research by European scientists. A study into canine anxiety revealed that negative experiences can adversely impact your pet’s ability to relax — but what does this mean for you and your pet?
Rest is vital for mental, emotional and physical wellbeing, we’ve looked further into the findings of this interesting study, as well as how you can ensure your dog is happy and stress-free when they head to bed.
In 2017, a canine study showed that anxiety affects the quality of a dog’s sleep — much like a bad day at work can affect ours. Researchers monitoring the test discovered that negative actions caused the participating dogs to have a fitful sleep that they awoke quickly from, while the pooches that enjoyed more positive experiences managed an hour of deep, consistent napping.
So, how did researchers fairly examine the impact of anxiety on dogs? To test the effect of stress on canine sleep, some of the dogs received ‘positive’ experiences before sleeping, while the others endured ‘negative’ experiences prior to resting (all dogs were subjected to both types of experiences). After monitoring the sleeping brainwaves of the canines, researchers came to the conclusion that anxiety plays a part in the ability of a dog to relax and rest. This study took place over three hours and involved a mix of 16 dogs, including a Labrador Retriever and boxer (among several other breeds).
One of the main challenges of the experiment was to determine what a ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ experience was to a dog. Scientists decided that the ‘positive’ factors would include petting, attention and playing games, while ‘negative’ factors would involve isolation from their owners and being approached menacingly. Typically, dogs that received a ‘good’ experience managed around an hour of deep, non-REM sleep. Conversely, ‘bad’ experiences caused the dogs to have only around 40-50 minutes of non-REM sleep.
But what is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and why is it important?
REM 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.
"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," commented Dr. Anna Kis, the study’s research leader.
Were there any other interesting findings as a result of this study? Although it may seem odd, researchers found that dogs that had received negative experiences actually feel asleep quicker than the dogs that enjoyed a nicer pre-sleep experience. 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."
Non-REM sleep is crucial to receiving adequate rest for a healthy body and mind, and this study highlights how negative experiences can adversely affect a dog’s wellbeing.
It’s clear from this 2017 study that ensuring your dog is stress-free can help them enjoy better sleep, which may lead to improved, all-round health. But how do we know when our pets are anxious? Here are a few typical indicators that your dog is feeling the strain and that you may need to intervene:
• Destructive behaviour.
• Licking their nose.
• Excessive shedding/moulting.
You might be asking: why is sleep so important for dogs that don’t have the responsibility of a family or job to consider? Consistently poor sleep could stop your dog ‘consolidating memories’ and ‘dealing with their emotions’, making them more aggressive, according to Dr. Kis. 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."
But try not to worry, even if your dog is stressed, there are ways to help them — even something as simple as switching to natural dog food can improve their general health and help better their mental state. So, what do you do if you have fears that your dog is stressed? To help make your dog happier and less anxious, you can try one or all of the following.
Ensure they get enough exercise every day:
Dogs need a decent amount of exercise every day to help avoid built-up energy and keep them fit and healthy. If your dog is stressed, extend your walk time by 10 or 15 minutes, or head into the garden once a day to play fetch. Swimming is a great way to tire out your anxious pooch and an excellent stress booster — granted that your dog enjoys water.
Help them stay sociable:
Most of us have busy lives that keep us out of the house for long periods, but you need to make sure that your dog isn’t left alone for too long during the day. While some dogs handle being alone better than others, some suffer from separation anxiety. 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.
Implement a secure routine:
A routine will help your dog feel secure, and it will be a huge comfort to them to know roughly when you get home, when they’re usually fed and when they often go to bed. Try to make each day similar. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but maintaining consistency helps keep your dog from worrying.
Improve their diets:
What your dog eats can also affect their fitness. Try a new dog food with better nutritional value (after checking with your dog’s vet) or cut out the human treats, which can be harmful to canines.
Stress is evidently something to watch out for as a pet owner. However, being vigilant and introducing the above stress-reducing methods can help ensure your dog gets a good night’s sleep every night.