Do you know what the most common signs of stress in a dog or cat are? Sometimes they’re pretty obvious, but other times they’re really subtle and hard to spot. Sometimes you might just think the behaviour your pet is displaying is normal and not a sign of anything!

But in these turbulent times, when many of us are spending far more time at home with our animals than usual, our pets can get a little wound up and out of sorts.

It’s important to be able to spot the signs of stress and help them out whenever you can.

So, what are those signs and what can you do to help your pet mellow out?

Signs of Stress in a Dog or Cat

These are some of the most common signs of stress in a dog or cat to watch for:

Shaking or Pacing

This is probably the most common sign that your pet is stressed out. After all, many humans shake when they’re nervous, so it’s easy to identify the same behavior in our animals. Pacing back and forth is also pretty easy to spot. The inability to settle down and the need to just pace the living room rug is usually a sign that something’s up.

Excessive Grooming

Excessive or obsessive grooming is what’s known as a displacement behavior. When your pet is stressed, they don’t really know what to do to ease that stress, so they do things that are normal and calming. That includes grooming themselves.

With dogs, you’ll often notice this is mainly isolated to their paws, and with cats is is typically around the tummy.

Ear, Tail, and Eye Changes

You can tell a lot about an animal by checking out their eyes, ears, and tail.

  • Ears – If your pet’s ears are down, flattened against their head, this is a typical sign of stress.
  • Eyes – Look for dilated pupils or eyes that are wide open, showing more white than usual.
  • Tail – If an animal is stressed, they may tuck their tails in between their legs.

Whining or Barking

This can be an easy one to spot if your pet isn’t normally very vocal. Whining more than usual, or barking a lot could be a sign that your dog is in need of some attention, so get down there on the carpet for some play time. It can also just be a way for your pet to self-soothe.

This is usually more common in dogs (unless you have a very talented barking cat), but you might notice more meowing than normal is a stressed out kitty too!


Many cats love to curl up in a warm, closed in space for a nap, but if your normally super sociable animal has taken to hiding away in funny spots, this could be a sign that they’re stressed.

Hiding may not be as common in dogs, but if your canine companion has ever hidden behind your legs, this is a perfect example!


Yes, our animals do yawn when they’re sleepy, just like humans. That said, yawning is one of the more common signs of stress in a dog or cat – and it can be easy to spot if you’re paying attention.

Ok, so how do you tell the difference? A sleepy yawn will look more relaxed, and a stressful yawn is usually longer lasting and a little more intense. You’ll probably notice more frequent yawning if stress is the cause. One of our pups used to get nervous in the car and would yawn almost constantly until she got more comfortable.

signs of stress in a dog


Is your dog sitting beside you panting heavily in your ear? But not after running a mile or because it’s hot outside? If your animal is panting but there isn’t a usual explanation, it could be a sign of stress or anxiety.

Peeing Outside the Litter Box

This one’s strictly for the kitties (unless you have a very talented pup). Cats that are distressed may opt to do their business outside the box as a way to get your attention and tell you something’s up.

Changes in Appetite

This one’s for both dogs and cats. Both may show changes in appetite if something in their environment has them stressed out. We hear this a lot when a new puppy or kitty (or baby) joins a household.

It’s important to keep a close eye on this one. If your animal isn’t eating because of stress, a return to normal or a few days of rest might be ok, but when in doubt, get in touch with your vet! Don’t ever let it go for too long, as it can also be a sign of an underlying health condition.

Excessive Shedding

We have a husky and a German shepherd at home, so we’re no strangers to shedding all year long. That said, this shedding is only major twice a year. If your pet is anxious or stressed, you might notice they’re dropping their coat at odd times. Shedding a lot, especially with dogs, increases with stress.

Tips to Help a Stressed Out Pet

If you notice any of these signs of stress in a dog or cat, the best first step is to try and figure out the cause. Is it noise related, is it a change in environment, is it a new person/animal in the home?

Once you’ve identified the stressor, your next best step is to remove it (or your pet from the stressful situation). In some cases this is totally doable. Of course, in some cases it isn’t, so you’ll want to try a few other de-stressing tips.

**One important thing to remember, whatever the case, you don’t want to snuggle up and comfort your animal in this stressed state. Doing so may confirm your pet’s fears, and when the stressors is reintroduced, they may just have the same reaction. You want to help build confidence in the future, so overly comforting or in any way rewarding the stressed behaviour won’t work in your (or their) favor.

Other ways to help your pet de-stress include:

  • Play with your animal. Throwing a ball around, doing some simple training/tricks, or tossing around that stuffed mouse can really help redirect your pet’s thoughts and help calm the anxiety.
  • Exercise. A nice walk though the woods is also a great way to help your pet calm their racing mind.
  • Giving them a time out in a safe space. Sometimes your dog or cat just needs a time out. Literally. give them a space away from whatever is causing them stress, somewhere they can escape to calm down and regroup.
  • Be a friend. This may sound silly, but just sitting next to your dog, not coddling or being too touchy, literally just sitting beside your dog, can have a major impact. Be calm, talk to your animal as if nothing is wrong. And the odd scratch won’t hurt either. Just sit together and relax.
  • Try some natural calming remedies like CBD oil, flower essences, or homeopathy. These are great to use in advance of a known stressor – like a car-ride or fireworks. Something like a thunder shirt may help as well.