Stress is a funny thing... it can be good for you, working as a better motivator than any of those motivational quotes with the vague backdrop of a sunset. But on the flip side, stress can cause so many health issues and mental anguish, all of which can have a long-lasting toll on the quality of life you lead. This exact same thing is true for most animals, too. When put in taxing situations or when too much is expected of them, just like us, animals get immensely stressed out and the impact is just as damaging.
You might be surprised to know that your pet has definitely felt some stress at some point or the other — the signs are just a little harder to notice than the more apparent ones in us humans, but learning these signs will bring you one step closer to understanding your pet.
Before we delve into the common signs displayed by cats, dogs, and birds in times of stress, it is important to understand that as a pet-parent you should be deeply familiar with how your pet normally behaves. Any changes in behaviour could suggest that your pet is stressed out.
STRESS IN DOGS
Stress in dogs can be rather dangerous. Chronic stress can impact health and also shorten a dog’s lifespan. Dogs are very communicative with their body language, and signs of stress are pretty easy to pick up. Some of the most common triggers of stress in dogs are changes in routine, sudden exposure to new people, loud noises, and an unanticipated change of surroundings. For many dogs, the triggers can also depend on their personalities. For instance, some dogs love car rides, while being in a moving car can cause motion sickness and stress in others. Being left alone for long periods of time can also stress dogs out sometimes resulting in Separation Anxiety.
Now that you know what can cause stress, let’s see the signs which signal that it’s time to be there for your dog and help them calm down! Common signs include:
- Whining - Listen to your dog. Different whines can mean different things. If your dog has been whining when he or she normally doesn’t, it could be a sign of stress.
- Excessive yawning - While dogs will yawn when sleepy as well, a stressed out yawn tends to be longer and more intense.
- Excessive licking of paws - A stressed dog will lick their paws excessively in an effort to distract themselves. But this can often lead to infected wounds when they to lick in the same spot.
- Excessive shedding - A stressed dog is likely to shed more hair, particularly in stressful situations.
- Panting - Excessive panting, with no reason to be doing so, is a definite sign of stress.
- Distracting themselves - If your dog is randomly sniffing the ground and trying to keep busy, it could be anxiety.
One way to help your dog have as few stress triggers as possible is to socialise them well and introduce exposure to various triggers so they get familiar. To help calm a stressed dog out, you can try the following:
- If possible, remove the source of anxiety or take your dog away from it.
- Find a quiet, comfortable environment for your dog to calm down.
- You should stay calm so your dog can understand there’s no reason to be stressed.
- Try making your dog do some basic commands to take their mind off what is stressing them (be sure to reward that).
- Take your dog on a long walk or play their favourite game with them.
If your dog’s anxiety and stress is a chronic problem, take them to the vet to rule out any medical conditions.
STRESS IN CATS
Just like dogs, stress can mean bad things for a cat’s health. Cats are sensitive animals who rarely react very well to changes; a new environment, a new baby or new animal can all be significant sources of stress for a cat. Too much competition in the household can also be a stressor for cats. This often happens in households with multiple cats.
Of course, there are many reasons your cat may get stressed, and observing their behaviour will often tell you what you need to know about the emotional and physical health of your cat. Any of the following symptoms could mean your cat is stressed out!
- Changes in bodily functions - A stressed cat is likely to go at odd hours, spray urine where they’re not supposed to and have loose motions.
- Low appetite - A cat that displays a lack of interest in food could be stressed out if all else is normal.
- Hiding - When a cat is stressed, they are more likely to seek shelter and spend most of their time hiding away.
- Over grooming - If your cat suddenly has bald patches from grooming themselves too much, it could be an indicator of stress.
- Aggressive behaviour - If your, normally, docile and friendly cat is lashing out, it could be because he/she is stressed.
- Excessive vocalisation - If your cat is meowing too much, much more than is normal for them, they may be trying to express stress.
These are just some common signs. Any time that you notice your cat doing something out of the ordinary, be sure to ask your vet to rule out any medical problems. While it does seem that cats are easily stressed, they are just as easy to calm down! Following are some great ways to calm your kitty:
- Make sure your cat's litter box is in a quiet area, is large enough and is cleaned regularly to avoid causing your cat stress. If you have multiple cats, a good rule of thumb is to keep one litter box per cat.
- With multiple cats, ensure you have enough food and water bowls to avoid stress over resources.
- Have a safe space for your cat where he/she is always comfortable. If your cat is stressed, you can put them in their “safe zone” to calm down — a cat tree, or another room with a dark and quiet hiding spot is perfect for such situations.
- Ensure your cat is getting enough attention and play time. Boredom is one of the most common causes of stress.
To help your cat have as few triggers of stress as possible, it is a good idea to gradually expose them to loud noises, and other common stressors to help them adjust. The key to this method is moderation, so as to avoid any surprises.
Knowing what stresses your cat out and knowing how to help them will definitely help cement your bond and help them be happier and more confident.
STRESS IN BIRDS
If you thought cats and dogs were sensitive to stress, birds are a whole other concern. Chronic stress can have a lifetime of impact on their lives and their health. Moreover, with birds, it’s sometimes hard to tell because they easily hide their feelings of stress.
Birds are among the most commonly stressed-out pets because many owners are not aware of the steps they must take to ensure that their pet has an environment that enriches their lives. Common causes of stress in a bird include a change in routine, adding a new animal to the household and change in the light cycle (like moving your bird to a darker room, etc.). Being able to view predatory animals from a window or from their perch will also result in varying levels of stress in birds, depending on their personalities.
Here are some common signs that are red flags of stress in your pet bird:
- Feather plucking - A bored or stressed bird is highly likely to display this classic sign of stress.
- Unusually quiet - If your normally chirpy bird has suddenly become quiet, pay closer attention to other behaviour.
- Screaming - On the flip side, if your bird is being noisier than usual, something could be wrong.
- Biting - Sometimes aggressive behaviour, especially from a normally docile bird, could indicate stress or fear.
- Repetitive Behaviours - Pacing, head swinging and other similar behaviours are sure signs that your bird is unhappy and stressed out due to boredom.
- Reduced appetite - A lack of interest in food is a sign of stress, depression, and pain.
While birds display stress in more worrying ways than other types of pets, there are some simple solutions you can implement to help enrich your bird's life. Birds are smart and social creatures, so with the following tips, you can ensure your pet bird is one happy pet bird:
- If your bird has begun picking its feathers or is engaging in repetitive behaviours, a good solution is to give him/her an interactive toy to play with. There are lots of online DIYs that can help you make cheap versions at home.
- Give them a little extra attention and let them out of their cage every now and again for as long as possible. This stimulates their senses.
- Try not to move your pet’s cage to different areas of the house. A constant space will help keep your bird feeling secure. Find a quiet spot for your bird’s cage.
- You can even train your bird depending on the type you have. This helps your bird bond with you better and creates a positive and mentally enriching experience for your bird.
Remember, stress is not always related to emotion, the cause could be physical or mental, too. If your pet starts showing signs of stress, observe other behavioural patterns and ensure visiting a vet to rule out medical conditions.
Stress affects us all, and while in moderation stress could be copeable, when it becomes chronic, it can threaten health and mental peace of mind for both humans and animals. Your pets are family, and a happy, well-adjusted pet only adds more joy to any family!