Be On The Lookout For Signs Of Kennel Stress


Kennel stress affects dogs in many ways. If steps are taken early when signs first appear, problems can be averted before they become serious. On the other hand, prolonged severe stress can compromise immune function and put an entire kennel at risk.

Stress is defined as anything that challenges a dog to change or adapt to new circumstances. Purina Research Scientist Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD, says, “There are many factors that can lead to stress in dogs, and some dogs are better equipped to handle stress than others. Some individuals are easygoing, and others are more anxious, making it difficult for them to adapt readily to anything new.”

Some stress is considered good for dogs and necessary for development. Short-term, low-level stress that occurs when puppies and adult dogs are vaccinated is necessary to provide protection from diseases, such as parvovirus, distemper, hepatitis, and rabies. In contrast, an individual dog is likely to experience long-term severe stress in response to a health condition, such as cancer or autoimmune disease.

“The stress response is normal, and in many situations of acute stress, it prepares the dog for challenges ahead,” Dr. McGowan says. “Mild short-term stressors actually help a dog to build the skills necessary to be behaviorally flexible and cope with anything that comes his way. Chronic stress, on the other hand, can be detrimental from both a behavioral and physiological standpoint. Long-term stress can be detrimental to the immune system, leaving a dog more susceptible to disease.” In a kennel environment, stressors could include crowding, lack of adequate shelter or food, noise, and negative or continual threatening behavior from other dogs.


Providing praise, ample downtime and rest, and nutritious complete and balanced dog food are important. You also should be sure vaccines are current so if a dog becomes sick, the additional stress is lessened.

“Anytime a dog has a sudden change in behavior and seems to be acting out of the ordinary, a veterinary evaluation is the first step to determine whether a medical issue might be at the root of this change,” advises Dr. McGowan. “If the dog is acting stressed, such as panting when it is not hot or being hypervigilant, unable to settle, excessively vocal, or reluctant to take treats, it also is important to perform environmental and social evaluations to determine potential stressors. “With this information, you can develop a customized socialization program or behavioral modification plan to reduce the dog’s stress level. This may include extra time socializing outside the kennel environment or adding privacy panels in the kennel to allow for quiet time.

“Nutrition also is important in kennels, as it helps to maintain a dog’s normal immune function and response to stress. “It is well- recognized that nutritional deficiencies can compromise immune function,” says Purina Veterinary Communications Manager Laura Eirmann, DVM, DACVN, a board- certified veterinary nutritionist.

“Even in apparently healthy dogs, diet composition can fine-tune optimal immune performance,” Dr. Eirmann says. “The majority of dogs are not obviously malnourished, yet their immune systems may not be operating at optimal efficiencies, especially if they are not fed nutritionally complete and balanced diets, such as Purina Pro Plan.”

Ultimately, dogs are individuals and what is harmful or stressful to the immune system of one dog may have no impact on another. The important consideration is that short bouts of low-level stress are not harmful. It is prolonged stress or severe stress that can compromise immune function. If you are alert for signs of stress and catch it early, problems can potentially be circumvented.