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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • March 2018
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Recognize and relieve sources of pets’ stress

Stress can affect anyone, even household pets. Although life may seem footloose and fancy free for companion animals, they have their share of stressors as well.

It may be hard to believe that dogs, cats, birds, and other animals can suffer from stress. But certain situations or scenarios may trigger a stressful response in pets, and pet owners should learn to recognize such stressors and do what they can to help pets avoid them.

Research indicates that stress, especially constant sources of stress, can impact pet health and well-being. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology found that when dogs are under stress, their bodies release an excessive amount of the fight or flight hormone norepinephrine. This can alter gut bacteria and interfere with gastrointestinal tract motility. Resulting diarrhea can compound stressful situations and exacerbate the situation.

The pet advice site Pet-Happy says that, during stressful situations, pets’ blood pressure may climb, breathing may become more rapid, heart rate may increase, and the immune system can become less effective - instances that would also occur in humans. Various studies show that stress can be a contributing factor to disease.

Animals experience stress for different reasons and exhibit stress in ways that set them apart from one another and their human companions. The following is a breakdown of what may contribute to stress in birds, cats and dogs.

Birds

According to James Morrisey, a veterinarian at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, birds are very good at picking up stress in people, which may contribute to their own stress. It can be challenging to determine what is causing stress in birds. However, the appearance of stress bars on feathers, the sudden onset of aggression, fearful behavior, changes in appetite, and destructive behavior can indicate that stress is present.

Cats

Cats can become stressed over situations their owners may not consider major. Loud music and noises, changes in food or litter brands, having new carpet or furniture installed, or a number of visitors in the home may be stressors, says Pam Johnson-Bennet, author and cat behavior expert. Some of the easiest stress symptoms to spot include excessive self-grooming, urine spraying, aggression, extreme vocalization, and eliminating outside of the litter box.

Dogs

The British Small Animal Veterinary Association’s “Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine” says that some of the most common dog stress triggers are novelty, housing changes, loud noises, changes in household members, and changes in schedule. Dogs may exhibit stress through appetite changes, isolation, digestive issues, lethargy, and increased sleeping.

Once stress is identified apart from any other health issues, pet owners can take steps to reduce it. Providing a security spot to which the pet can retreat, regular exercise, mental stimulation, and gradual changes to routine, diet or other things a pet has relied on can help. 

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