Stress and Your Dog
Day to day life can expose your dog to a multitude of stress triggers, but in most cases the ‘fight or flight’ response is counterproductive and may result in a number of behavioural difficulties.
Stress comes in many forms, from isolation, to a change in environment, a fright, intimidation from another dog, pressure to work and concentrate, exercise, cold, noise, pain, hunger etc. The inability to rationalise about stressful situations or to respond effectively can itself be a cause of stress.
Dogs, like us, vary in how well they cope with various types of stress, and how they react. Some dogs are innately more sensitive to stress making it very difficult to acclimatise them to new situations.
So what actually is Stress?
Stress is a survival response, designed to equip us for ‘fight or flight’. It involves a complex sequence of events that are designed to make us, temporarily, a tiny bit superhuman (or supercanine), if not particularly rational.
In response to stress, the body releases hormones and uses the nerves to increase heart, metabolic and breathing rates, redistribute blood flow away from the gut and bladder to the muscles, increase blood pressure, increase blood glucose and delay fatigue. There are many transmitter substances involved; you will most likely have heard of cortisol and adrenaline.
Perception and memory can also be altered, which is worth keeping in mind if you are having trouble conditioning your dog to something new.
These adaptations are great for a dog in the wild, but rarely are they useful for our domesticated friend. When combined with a lack of control over their environment, stress can manifest itself as an array of behaviours.
The Basic Roles of Magnesium and Calcium
Calcium and magnesium are both essential nutrients that are highly abundant in the body. The calcium ion (Ca2+) is remarkably similar to that of magnesium (Mg2+) and yet they act very differently. They work together but antagonistically to help maintain normal function in the body.
Calcium works to excite nerves, to stimulate a reaction, thus allowing the body to communicate, contract muscles etc. Magnesium however is vital for inhibitory control, blocking certain channels to prevent unwanted reactions, allowing muscles to relax and generally helping to control the nervous system.
Under normal conditions, the majority of calcium is kept outside of the cell, whereas magnesium is mostly found inside the cell. Stress responses vitally involve the influx of calcium into the cells, thus dramatically altering the cell magnesium to calcium ratio. Calcium acts to encourage nerve excitation, adrenaline secretion and adrenaline response. The stress response subsides when the resting magnesium to calcium ratio is restored.
Ensuring Adequate Dietary Magnesium
As a general population we are highly aware of calcium. It has been promoted for decades due to its connections with skeletal growth (although it serves many other functions too) and the commerciality of calcium rich foods. By contrast, few of us are aware of the significance of magnesium.
Dogs, like us, also require adequate dietary magnesium to support cellular energy metabolism, muscle and nerve function, and skeletal structure. Poor magnesium intake, especially when combined with high calcium intake, can drastically impact on the body’s basic cellular processes.