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Cortisol in Dogs: Understanding the Stress Hormone and Its Impacts on Canine Health


Cortisol, commonly referred to as the “stress hormone,” plays a significant role in canine health and behaviour. For dog owners, understanding how cortisol functions and its effects on your pet is crucial. This educational piece aims to provide a comprehensive view of cortisol, its causes, effects, and management strategies, in a format accessible to the average dog owner.

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands. It’s essential for regulating various body functions, including metabolism, immune response, and stress management. When a dog experiences stress, its body releases cortisol, initiating the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, which is a natural mechanism for handling threatening situations.

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Cortisol: The Canine Natural High

In the short term, the release of cortisol can be likened to a ‘natural high’ for dogs. This hormonal surge enhances alertness, energy, and readiness to respond to stressors, akin to a burst of adrenaline in humans. This natural high is crucial for survival, helping dogs navigate challenging or threatening situations.

How and Why Cortisol Occurs

Cortisol release is triggered by stressors such as loud noises, unfamiliar environments, separation from owners, or perceived threats. The body’s response, orchestrated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, enables the dog to cope with these stressors.

The Negatives of Prolonged Cortisol Exposure

However, like any high, the downside becomes apparent when cortisol levels remain elevated for too long:

  • Behavioural Changes: Increased aggression, anxiety, or fearfulness.
  • Physical Health Problems: Weakened immune system and increased susceptibility to illness.
  • Weight Gain: Appetite increase leading to potential obesity.
  • Skin Conditions: Poor coat and skin health.

Managing Cortisol Levels in Dogs

At Jordan Dog Training, we suggest:

  • Regular Exercise: Essential for reducing stress and cortisol levels.
  • Training and Socialisation: Key to lessening stress responses.
  • Safe Environment: A stress-free home is vital.
  • Diet and Nutrition: Balanced nutrition aids in managing stress.
  • Recognising Stressors: Minimising stress triggers is crucial.

Preventative Strategies and Signs of Healthy Cortisol Balance

Establishing a consistent daily routine, providing mental stimulation, and ensuring calm social interactions are key preventative measures. Dogs with balanced cortisol levels typically display a good appetite, consistent energy levels, regular sleep patterns, and a calm demeanour. Observing your dog’s behaviour can provide insights into their stress levels and well-being.


Understanding and managing cortisol is integral to your dog’s health and happiness. At Jordan Dog Training, we’re dedicated to assisting you and your dog in effectively navigating stress for a fulfilling life together.


This article is a general guide and provides generic advisory information only. It is not a substitute for professional veterinary advice. Each dog’s needs are unique; consult a qualified veterinarian for comprehensive, personalised care. Veterinary guidance is crucial for your dog’s specific health requirements.

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Justin Jordan Trainer

Justin Jordan

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