Cortisol is the secondary stress hormone, released after Adrenalin when the dog’s body experiences an event of change or concern. Concerning events can range from simply waking up in the morning, right up to an immediate threat to survival.
Cortisol is produced naturally, and is able to be removed from the body naturally too. However, if either excess is produced, or natural levels cannot be removed, too much will remain in the body, causing reactions. Influencing your dog’s health, well-being and happiness.
If both excess is produced and those levels cannot be reduced or removed, the dog is left with an even greater excess of Cortisol circulating its system and an even greater likelihood of reactions occurring.
When Cortisol is released, your dog benefits from increased oxygenation of muscles and an increase in glucose for energy. They will be acting in their Sympathetic nervous system and be in a more stressful state of ‘fight or flight’.
Whilst this state is of course useful at times it is certainly not the relaxed calm state we would prefer our beloved pets to be in for longer periods of time.
Being in a state of fight or flight for long periods leaves the dog more likely to feel scared, anxious, reactive or nervous. It also heightens their awareness and concern for any noise, smell or sight that under normal conditions would be coped with calmly, or perhaps not noticed at all.
Because life is happening around them, your dog’s level of Cortisol is constantly being balanced. Being released at times it is needed and then naturally removed afterwards. Various events increase its release or decrease its ability to be removed, either way leaving your dog with an excess of Cortisol circulating in their system, influencing how they feel, and thus how they react to things that happen to them, or around them. Ultimately this circulating hormone level is influencing how they behave at any given moment.
The stronger the excess in a dogs system the more reactive, nervous, anxious, or aggressive they will be – even at resting. In our modern day society an excess of stress hormone in their system can show up regularly. Either as behavioural response, or as well being issues.
If you have ever commented ‘’well that’s not like him, or her’’, chances are more Cortisol was circulating through your dogs system at the time the behaviour occurred.
Some of the health issues related to high levels of circulating Cortisol include:
Diabetes, Appetite changes, Pancreatitis, Heart problems, Inflammation, Skin issues, Reduced bone density, Muscle wastage, Digestive concerns and a weakened Immune System. If the high continue to increase a diagnosis of Cushing’s disease is often made.
There are of course tests (either saliva or blood tests) that can determine your dog’s Cortisol levels, usually unless they are at the level they can be diagnosed with a specific disease circulating levels are not considered a major issue, despite the influence they have clearly have on behaviour and well being. As your dog’s levels can also naturally be high after stress and then be removed later on, testing is not always an accurate method of understanding if there is a longer term issue.
The lifestyles dogs now live in, the expectations we set upon them – either deliberately or simply through pressures we feel – the busier, fuller, more fearful environment is in my opinion influencing all our dogs. As such sensitive beings, how could it not?
The time has come, if not quite overdue, to welcome opportunities to assist our dog’s bodies to balance stress levels and reduce or remove excess Cortisol from their system.
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