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Eight Signs of Pet Distress

Yes, our pets get stressed too!

Stress is an emotion that both humans and pets can experience. A change in environment, the introduction of a new animal, or the loss of a loved one all might leave your pet feeling stressed, anxious, and nervous. Unlike us, our pets cannot schedule a spa day, reach out to a friend for advice, or express their emotions verbally. Therefore, it is important for pet owners to be aware of changes in their pet’s behaviour that might indicate distress. 

This article will discuss eight signs of pet distress and ways that pet owners might reduce stressors in their pet’s environment. 

Signs of Pet Distress

Stress-related behaviours are unique to each individual pet but may include any of the following behaviours:

  1. Decrease in Activity: A pet that has suddenly become less social, active, or responsive might be experiencing distress. 

  1. Loss of Appetite: Loss of appetite is a warning sign that a pet might be experiencing distress. A decrease in eating habits or a refusal to eat might be related to stressors in your pet's environment. Pet owners should consult a veterinary professional if their pet experiences a prolonged loss of appetite. 

  1. Vocalizations: Vocalizations such as whining, barking, meowing, or hissing might indicate that your pet is stressed. According to Castleridge Veterinary Clinic pets that are anxious or nervous often use vocalizations to get their owner’s attention or to self-soothe. 

  1. Avoidance Behaviours: According to VCA Canada, a network of veterinary hospitals, avoidance behaviours might include hiding, turning away or avoiding interactions with other pets or humans. These behaviours indicate that your pet might be stressed. 

  1. Restlessness: Restlessness behaviours might include pacing, circling or frequently changing positions. All these behaviours indicate that your pet might be stressed.

  1. Attention-Seeking Behaviours: Attention-seeking behaviours such as barking, pawing, chewing, or jumping might be a sign of stress. According to the American Kennel Club, your pet might be trying to communicate to you that they are feeling stressed, anxious or nervous. 

  1. Excessive Shedding: Excessive shedding is another sign that a pet might be experiencing distress. According to the VCA, pet shedding will increase when pets are under stress or anxious (for example, when visiting the veterinarian). If your pet is shedding more than usual it is important to consider possible stressors.

  2. Bodily Functions: Changes in bodily functions might indicate stress. Excessive urination or bowel movements or the inability or urinate or have bowel movements are all signs that your pet might be experiencing distress. 

Reducing Pet Stress

As a pet owner, it is important to be aware of potential stressors in your pet’s environment. Castleridge Veterinary Clinic lists the following stressors: the introduction of a new pet or human, moving to a new home, travelling, changing the usual routine, leaving your pet alone for a prolonged period, and the death of a pet or human. 

There are several ways to reduce pet stress including the following: 

  • Providing a safe, quiet space for your pet (preferably away from other pets and humans). 

  • Resuming your usual routine with your pet.

  • Increasing physical activities and play time (going on more walks, runs and spending quality time). 

If removing stressors from your pet's environment does not seem to be helping, consulting with a qualified veterinary professional might be important. A veterinarian will be able to rule out any underlying medical conditions and recommend stress-management techniques to help your furry friend. 

Authored by Alexandra Lapolla

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