Stress colitis in dogs

Updated 21 February 2024
Read time: 11 mins
article author
Written by Corinne Homer

Have you ever let your dog outside to urgently poop, only to find they have diarrhoea with blood in it? This can be concerning for pooch parents, as it seems serious. You should definitely get your dog to a vet if this occurs, but you may be surprised to know that it can be brought on by stress.


Stress colitis is a common, yet unpleasant condition for dogs that is usually treatable with medication and a few diet and lifestyle tweaks. Read on for the lowdown on dog stress colitis, the usual causes for it and the best ways to treat colitis in dogs.


What is stress colitis in dogs?

The clue's in the name - ‘colitis’, as it means inflammation of the colon. In regards to dog health, this inflammation causes a nasty case of diarrhoea or other bowel issues, which may leave blood or mucus in stools and have your poor pup in distress and pain.


Colitis in general can be caused by a few things - their immune disease, stomach infections, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), pancreatitis, or something else. Stress colitis, however, is caused by your dog experiencing stress.


Understanding causes of stress colitis in dogs

Dogs feel stress for lots of reasons - and it affects all dogs differently. Your dog’s stress colitis could be caused by anxiety they’re feeling due to lifestyle changes, such as a house move, or perhaps they’ve had an operation lately. It could be due to a new dog or person in the house. They may be feeling traumatised due to bad treatment by former owners, or a recent accident they’ve had.


Another thing to note is, that dogs with sensitive stomachs are often more impacted by stress or environmental changes, as inflammation of their digestive system is triggered more easily.


Symptoms of stress colitis in dogs

So, how will you know if your dog has a bout of stress colitis? Take note if your dog has presented any of the following symptoms:

  • Pooping urgently and more often, exhibiting distress if they can’t do so. Loose stools/severe diarrhoea.
  • Blood or mucus in stools which appears as bright red, or black and tarry.
  • Stomach pain. Your dog may whimper or dislike being touched in the abdomen.
  • Constipation or straining to poop and being unable to produce anything.
  • More gas than usual, more frequently and sometimes stinkier farts.
  • Changes in appetite due to nausea, and because their digestion isn’t functioning correctly.
  • Weight loss due to their decreased appetite. Lethargy and not seeming themselves.

Understanding your dog's stress triggers

It’s in the name - stress colitis is caused by stress! So it’s important that you come to understand what triggers a sense of anxiety in your dog. The intensity of your dog’s stress could depend on their personality, or it could be down to them having a sensitive digestive system (a pooch with a sensitive tummy will more easily develop inflammation due to stressful events).


Stressful events could be anything - from a lifestyle change such as a new baby or house move, to the lingering distress of frequent vet visits or a domestic disturbance. If you notice your pooch suffering from colitis, and it hasn’t been diagnosed as a symptom of another health condition, then stress could be the cause.

A close up shot of a long-haired, golden dachshund, against a bright blue background

Can puppies get stress colitis?

Yes, puppies can get colitis due to stress! This can be brought on by things that are stressful for little puppies - a sudden change in environment, weaning or changing foods, getting used to other dogs, being left alone for too long, and so on.


Take your pup to the vet for a checkup if they appear to have ongoing toilet trouble.


Dog breeds prone to colitis

Whether it’s brought on by stress or not, some dogs are more genetically predisposed to suffer from colitis than others. This includes:

  • German Shepherds
  • Border Collies
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Boxers
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Labrador Retrievers

How is stress colitis in dogs diagnosed?

When you’ve noticed your pooch suffering from painful diarrhoea and more importantly, there's blood or mucus in the stools, it’s vital to get them to a vet for a proper examination.


Colitis is a symptom of many potential health conditions and illnesses, so it’s important for a vet to rule out any of these possibilities before diagnosing stress colitis. Generally, they’ll do this by taking stool samples and carrying out thorough physical tests.


Alongside this, your vet will ask you about your dog’s diet, lifestyle and any significant environmental changes they may have experienced. If stress colitis is suspected, it’s probable they’ll advise a few at-home treatments (read on for more of these) and prescribe some anti-diarrhoea medication.


Symptoms of chronic colitis in dogs

Stress colitis is usually a short-term condition that can be cleared up with the right lifestyle changes, but sometimes it can stick around long-term, or happen over and over. This is called chronic colitis.


If this seems to be the case and you’re not sure why, get your pooch to a vet for a thorough examination; chronic inflammation of your pooch’s colon could be linked to an underlying health condition.

A chocolate brown, large, short-haired dog, lay down against a pale pink background

How can I help my dog with stress colitis?

The outlook is usually very positive when your dog suffers from stress colitis. After taking them to the vet to rule out any other more serious conditions, you can treat stress colitis with a combination of medications, diet changes and at-home remedies.


How to treat your dog's stress colitis at home

Once you’ve had a diagnosis of stress colitis, there are lots of ways to treat the problem at home.


Reduce your dog’s stress.

If the root cause of your dog’s stress can be reduced or eliminated, work on that first. Perhaps they need a calm, private sleeping area; a more structured walking or feeding routine; or to be kept relatively separate from another animal in the house.


Introduce a plain/low-residue diet.

It’s a good idea to put your pooch on a bland diet which avoids common food triggers, such as red meat and grain. This is also called a low-residue diet. Try dog food that is gentle on digestion and not full of strong flavours, such as one with plain white fish, pea and potato. You could also try a vet-approved dog food.


Add more fibre to your dog's diet.

Fibre is an essential nutrient for a dog’s digestion; it promotes healthy and regular bowel activity and firms up stools. Lots of vegetables contain fibre such as courgette, broccoli or carrots, so get some of these into your dog’s diet. You could also try a specialist dog food for sensitive tummies.



Under the guidance of a vet, fasting can be a way to give your dog’s digestive tract a chance to recover. This shouldn’t be for more than 12 hours or so, and remember to keep your dog well hydrated - it’s crucial they get lots of water.



Your vet might prescribe some medication for your dog’s colitis - anti-diarrhoea capsules, for instance. If stress is a big issue in your dog, they might prescribe some anti-anxiety medication to settle their nerves and in turn, battle the colitis.


Anti-inflammatory prebiotics / probiotics.

To ease the inflammation in your dog’s gut and digestive system, the use of probiotics and prebiotics can help. This wonder duo works powerfully together to create harmony in the gut microbiome and improve bowel function (read more about probiotics for dogs).


Ways to prevent stress colitis in your dog

We’ve covered ways to tackle the symptoms of stress colitis, now what about preventing stress in the first place? Well, it could be useful to try a few anti-stress techniques for dogs to improve their general wellbeing…


Practice crate training

If your pooch tends to feel agitated and stressed throughout the day, they might respond well to crate training. Dogs feel a sense of safety and security from having their own private ‘den’ to retreat to, so this could offer them a way to self-soothe, thus reducing the anxiety that exacerbates their colitis.


Play music or calming sounds

Music and calming white noise have been proven to reduce a dog’s stress levels and induce a sense of serenity. Popping some chilled music on can be a useful way to comfort your dog during stressful periods; for example, when visitors are in the house, a baby is crying, or they have to be left alone for short periods. Check out our Calm and Relaxed Pooch Playlist.


Honour your dog’s routines

Studies show that pets exhibit signs of stress when predictability in their day-to-day life is removed. If, for some reason, your dog’s walking, feeding or sleeping routine is chaotic or always changing, try to be more structured in your approach, and stick to set times each day. Dogs feel immense safety in their routines and should become calmer once they start to stick.


Try CBD oil for dogs

Though it’s not commercially available for dogs in the UK yet, many pooch parents have anecdotal evidence of the impact of CBD oil. A few drops of good quality CBD oil in your dog’s regular food may help instil a sense of calm. Of course, if you notice any untoward side effects of this (a worsening of diarrhoea, for instance) then stop using immediately. If you’re intrigued, here’s some more information on CBD for dogs.


When to contact your vet

You should get in touch with a vet as soon as you notice blood or mucus in your dog’s stools, as this can be a sign your dog needs urgent medical care. Once you’ve received a diagnosis of stress colitis and been given medication and advice, you should stay in contact with your vet to update them of any changes and improvement in your dog’s condition, but especially if treatment doesn’t seem to have made a difference.



Can anxiety cause colitis in dogs?

Yes, if your pooch has anxiety, they could develop stress colitis. If you notice your dog has poop issues and think this could be the case, make a note of the triggers that exacerbate your dog’s anxiety, and take them to a vet for further advice.


How long does stress colitis in dogs last?

How long stress colitis lasts can vary greatly depending on the seriousness of your dog’s stress/anxiety, and how effective treatment is. Be sure to report to your vet as you carry out treatment, particularly if you haven’t seen much improvement in your dog’s colitis.


Is colitis in dogs contagious?

No, colitis itself isn’t contagious as it refers to inflammation of the colon. It’s usually a symptom of something else - such as stress, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), a tummy infection etc., so the colitis itself shouldn’t spread to other dogs.


How do you treat stress colitis in dogs naturally?

It’s important to take your dog to a vet to rule out any underlying health conditions, but if they diagnose stress as the cause, there are many natural ways to treat the problem.


A change in diet is usually recommended (try food for sensitive stomachs or high fibre foods), as well as giving your dog the means to calm and self-soothe at home (lots of chew toys, calming dog treats and food, a quiet sleeping area, and a structured exercise and feeding routine).


If possible, remove any obvious causes of stress to your pooch and make their calmness a priority as much as you can.


Lots of dogs achieve calmness, wellbeing and overall gut health with a nutritious, grain-free diet. Take a look at our grain-free food for dogs with sensitive stomachs, as well as our tasty vet-approved dog food range, specially formulated for dogs with various health conditions.

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