Can dogs literally be frightened to death? Bella very nearly was...

Can dogs literally be frightened to death? Bella very nearly was...

 

This article appeared in the January 2021 edition of Westies and Besties magazine. To find out more and subscribe click here.

 

Thirty five years ago, I saw a Boxer, who was steadily losing weight.

The puzzling thing was, Bella was still eating normally, her diet hadn’t changed, there was no vomiting or diarrhoea, and no physical abnormalities, other than increasingly prominent bones.

Investigations over several weeks proved fruitless. All the blood tests were normal. X-rays likewise. Stool samples had been sniffed, smeared on a slide and stained, cultured on plates, and inspected for parasites - all to no avail. In short, there appeared to be no physical or physiological reason for Bella’s continued, steady decline.

With no other avenues of investigation left to explore, an operation was performed to examine all the abdominal organs, in a search for any clues (this was long before the advent of MRI and CAT scans for pets). Once again, everything appeared fine. Before closing the incision, tiny full thickness biopsies of bowel tissue were removed from various points along the gut, in the hope that histology would reveal microscopic abnormalities that were not visible to the naked eye.

A tense week followed before the laboratory report came back. Opening the envelope (no email reports then!) our hearts sank, the tissue samples taken were all healthy. We were well and truly at a dead end - until that is - new information came to light, which changed everything.
 
Asking about Bella’s life before the problem began, we were told that for many years, 3 Boxers had lived in the same house, all happily getting along. And then, the eldest one died. As old as she was, she was still ‘the boss’, who kept the other two in check whenever any squabbles broke out. Shortly after this, a battle of wills began, which was quickly won by the older bitch. Despite clearly being ‘top dog’, she would at intervals pounce without warning on Bella with venom, drawing blood, and continuing her attack until physically hauled away by her distressed owners.

In the absence of any other explanation for Bella literally wasting away, and all attempts at stopping the bullying, the older girl was rehomed. Within days the difference in Bella was astonishing! Back was the mischievous sense of fun Boxers are renowned for. Playing became a passion again, and the more her mood lifted, the better her body condition became. Several weeks later she was mentally and physically back to her ‘old self’.

As a young Vet, not long out of University at the time, I learnt three important lessons, not taught then during the BVSc course:

Firstly, that a pet’s mental and emotional state can profoundly affect their physiology and physical health - even to the point of causing serious illness (this was not widely recognised ‘back in the day’). 

Secondly, that sometimes it is not until after a pet’s mood or general demeanour has improved following the successful resolution of a problem, that it becomes clear just how anxious, stressed, or depressed they were.
Thirdly, it is essential to consider chronic stress as a factor, whenever ill-health appears, even if it not the main cause of the problem, or signs of persistent fight / flight arousal are not obvious. 

Given that anxiety in one form or another affects the majority of pets today, as a result of the many stresses and strains of modern day living, providing ongoing natural relief is an essential part of any natural dog care regime. Clinically proven blends of botanical and mineral extracts which help to reset fight / flight reactivity and the gut-brain axis, can be highly effective in this regard.

It is also important however, to also consider and address any specific underlying causes for particular types of stress, as in Bella’s case, which may include:

  • grief
  • persistent ill-health
  • past traumas (especially in rescue dogs)
  • diet (deficiencies of certain amino acids, vitamins, minerals or trace elements for example, can negatively affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) and levels of balancing neurotransmitters in the brain and gut, resulting in an increase in stress hormones and the likelihood of problematic behaviours)
  • conditioning (the impact of upbringing and training) 
  • drugs
  • family dynamics (human and canine)
  • home environment

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