By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM, DACVIM
People talk a lot about the stress in their lives: their job, their mortgage, their spouse; but do pets have stress? And if they have stress, how can you manage it?
Since this blog is titled “Pet Stress,” you can guess I believe pet stress exists. I actually see it on a daily basis. The photo at left shows a good example of cat stress. Donovan, the new kitten, is trying to be friends with Delbert, the established top cat in the household. Donovan has snuggled into the chair. Delbert is giving him the cold shoulder and is unwilling to even make eye contact with the little invader. The addition of a new pet can be very stressful to the current one.
To decrease stress when a new cat is added to the household, the number of litter boxes should equal the number of cats, plus one. Cats like privacy and an inadequate number of litter boxes can result in inappropriate urinations and defecations. Some cats even wait outside the box to attack the other cat as he exits the preferred litter box.
Dogs may respond to stressful events by developing acute diarrhea. The AMC’s emergency room staff saw a lot of this over the holidays in response to houseguests, following parties, or after a stay at the boarding kennel. I have one dog patient who always struggles with diarrhea while he is in New York City and the minute he decamps to the country house, the diarrhea is better. I think New York City is a great place to live; obviously he doesn’t agree with me, but he does eat the special food I prescribe which nicely prevents the diarrhea flare-ups.
Just like a new pet in the household can be stressful, a new baby, new boyfriend or a new home can cause stress in your pet. Change can be difficult for them too: a change in food, schedule, or the absence of a favorite family member, including another pet, can upset pets. Your behavior is also a pet stressor. Door slamming, yelling, angry voices and other loud noises can send your pet under the bed or provoke an accident in the house due to stress.
If you think your pet is experiencing stress, talk to your veterinarian first and if the clinical signs you’re seeing are not related to a medical condition, check back here next week for suggestions on destressing your pet.