Stress …. a contagious disease

06 May
Nelson (clearly not stressed !!!) relaxes watched over by photos of his brothers Joe and Jake

Nelson (clearly not stressed !!!) relaxes watched over by photos of his loving brothers Joe and Jake

A dear friend and client of mine boarded her dog with us last week; she contacted me a few days before the dogs arrival to tell me that her pup had diarrhea that had been a problem for a few days now, and would I still have the dog come stay? She had apparently eaten a critter like our Steve did a week or so ago, and hadn’t been right since…..

Because I love her, and love her dog, I said of course we would take her (trust me, I gotta love your dog, and you, to face the prospect of runny diarrhea in my home….!) and so ‘Haley’ (not her real name, this dog is in the DD witness protection program now she’s had an article written about her, of course!!!) arrived early last week and settled in to her normal routine at the Ranch.

The dogs here have an immense amount of time outside with us; even when we are winding them down for the night, we normally are sitting outside under the porch, and so from day one, due to plenty of chances to eliminate outside, she didn’t have an accident inside the house. However, the poops that I noticed in the yard had a runny quality and a smidge of blood in them.

We set about trying to fix the problem and Haley went straight on to a diet of rice and chicken and her tummy quickly started to settle. We first checked with mum that it was okay and then gave the dog some metronidazole that we had here for our own dogs ‘just in case’ and some probiotics to balance the delicate flora in her digestive system; Haley was doing fine after a few short days.

However, I was scratching my head trying to determine what had caused this upset tummy that had no vomiting and no ill feeling at all, the dog was running footloose and fancy free all last week like a puppy, had a bundle of energy and didn’t present as sick at all…….it was then that I remembered a conversation I had had with her mum just after she dropped her off…..

She told me that she couldn’t really cope with any more poop on the carpets, her house had just gone on the market, she was constantly trying to keep it clean and tidy which was a huge ordeal in itself, and shampooing the carpets every day was wearing her out. She told me that this whole ordeal was so stressful; the thoughts of where they might be moving to, where her daughter might be going to school, added to the fact that the ex was behaving like a world class jerk and being totally unhelpful financially. She told me that the stress on her was incredible, and I had to admit that she looked absolutely overwrought with it. Her face was flushed, her eyes looked tired and she was finding it hard to relax and chat whereas we would normally be shooting the breeze like a couple of old tarts on a street corner together.

Things started to make sense….

When she picked Haley up, I had a word with her about her stress level and how it was affecting the dog…..I have no doubt at all that Haley was suffering a bout of stress colitis brought about maybe at the start by the nasty dead critter but I truly feel that it was exacerbated by the stress in Haleys mum’s life.

Dogs mirror their owners, how often have I said that on these pages?

If we feel stress, they feel stress. If we are ecstatic, so are they.

Heck, the only variance in most dogs’ days is brought about by a change in their owners demeanor….we are so fundamentally important to them, so intrinsically linked to them if we have a close relationship, that if we cry or feel anguish, it feels like the end of the world…..

Last time I took Hank Williams, our foster/rehab dog from the Gwinnett County Sheriffs Jail Dogs Program back to the jail, he was riding beside me in the front of the truck, sitting up high on his seat, looking out of the window.

I looked at him and felt such a pang for all that he had been through in his short life, how he had been manhandled to the point of him being so fearful of touch, how so many short sighted people had given up on him and pronounced him dangerous, and it cut right to my heart. I burst into tears and seriously couldn’t stop……. so I had to pull over.

As I sat there in the truck on the side of the road, sobbing my heart out, Hank eased over onto my lap and began to lick my face and snuffle my hair. Then he put his paw on my shoulder and laid his head on top of it. It’s one of the most beautiful moments I have ever had with a dog and it was at that moment that I truly knew Hank was going to be okay…..

Hank had taken on my pain, he probably even knew it was about him, and he sought to give me solace, a very special quality in a family dog. Our relationship had grown to new heights in that moment; a wonderful thing, and a terrible thing all at the same time, because his new-found sensitivity towards my feelings meant that my hurt was his hurt, my pain was his pain.

Had the jail called me up the next day and asked me what the hell had I fed Hank because he had the screaming abdabs (as we English would call it), I wouldn’t have been surprised, because, so often, I see stress being centered in the stomach.

As it is, thankfully, Hank has a cast iron constitution and could probably eat a whole dead rotten carcass and still run a marathon the next day, but the point is……..stress stays, it festers and its a weight we carry in our heart, in our head or in our stomach.

In talking to Haleys mum about this whole subject of stress and stress colitis, which is when stress manifests in the digestive tract as vomiting or diarrhea, she expressed surprise that Haley would be feeling stress over her current situation, because she was nowhere near as bad as this when her mother died two years ago. Surely she would have been worse then, when the pain was so much greater? The ordeal and the grief was so huge?

I explained to Haley’s mum that just like humans, dogs experience a huge range of emotions, in different ways at different times and thus, have different coping mechanisms with which to deal with them.

Dogs seeking to become a panacaea to their humans hurt might just provide a shoulder, as Hank did for me that day; they might howl, as a particular husky I know did after the death of his beloved mate; they might retreat, feeling they can do nothing in this situation and trust that their owner can work it out for themselves; or, as Haley did, they might feel helpless in the face of such a huge range of problems and emotions, feel a little perplexed at the shouting over the soiled carpets and the reaction becomes more of a physical one…hence the never ending cycle of poop/ sensing the disappointed owner/ seeing her shampooing the carpets wearily/ stress of seeing her so upset means back to pooping again.

Not every stressful situation is the same, and as a human I don’t handle each one the same. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I scream, sometimes I throw things, sometimes I withdraw, and yes occasionally I spend hours in the bathroom! Dogs are capable of the same array of coping mechanisms……mind you, when I’m in the bathroom for hours I wouldn’t call that coping!

Haley’s mum adores her dog, she is without question one of the most caring dog parents I have as a client, but even she isn’t perfect, she has a dog with the heaving poops and cant hide her displeasure at the sight of yet another steaming pile; as a vibrant, passionate woman, she cannot hide her emotions at all, so poor Haley just took it all in and wore it like a crown of thorns.

My advice to her was to find her inner calm and to just ‘let it go’ for the moment, for the sake of her, her family and her dog. Sometimes our dogs’ reaction to our problems can bring the whole situation into a much sharper focus and force us to rethink how we approach it….

Being someone who is incredibly quick to fly off the handle [never when I’m working, but oh my…when I’m at home? Duck and cover!] and who gets antsy at the stupidity of certain people in my life, I have had to find some quick ways to cool down and chill so that my pack and my family don’t get to feel the brunt of it.

My advice to you today, if you don’t want your dog to go stick their head in a gas oven or call the shelter asking if they can please come check themselves in is…..

1) Take a good brisk walk, go to Six flags, eat a bowl of curry or go get ‘jiggy’ with someone special.. all of these activities produce endorphins, a neurotransmitter produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, which acts as an analgesic. Endorphins are so named because they create a morphine like substance in the body. So much better for you than anti depressants and no side effects!

2) Big glass of sauvignon blanc and a pile of pasta with pesto, parmigiano cheese and good olive oil. (carb rich meals are scientifically proven to increase the flow of serotonin in our brain) The wine…well, everything tastes better with a good glass of sauvignon, doesn’t it? That’s not necessarily science that’s just common sense!

3) Big bar of 50% or higher cocoa solid chocolate. Chocolate contains phenylaninine, which is an amino acid that acts as an analgesic and an anti depressant. Thus, a trip to Godiva is exactly the place one needs to go when the poop hits the fan!

4) If all else fails, take five minutes and watch the bathroom scene from the hilarious movie ‘Hall Pass’…guaranteed to crack you up every time!

Stay calm out there….!

 

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One Response to “Stress …. a contagious disease”

  1. Mark May 7, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    Very beneficial. I am now evaluating our situation with our puppy. It must be Janice;)

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