Of course, your pet cannot tell you that he is stressed. This makes it extremely important for you as the owner to pay close attention to certain signs of stress, as long-term stress is not at all healthy for your sweet animal. How do you recognize these signs? How do you know there is long-term chronic stress?
Radar will discuss this with Laura Reifler, a certified veterinarian who specializes in behavioral medicine in training. Reifler is led by Valerie Junker Shehe, the only qualified behavioral medicine specialist in the Netherlands, who co-authored this article. They both work at the Evidensia Animal Hospital in Nieuwegein.
How do you recognize stress in your pet? Let’s get straight to the point: There is no golden rule for recognizing stress in every animal. “The animal species are very different from each other for this reason,” says Reifler. Fortunately, she can name some general stress signals that apply to a large portion of the pets in the home, garden, and kitchen:
- shiver / shiver
- look away
- Pupil enlargement
- hair prominence
- Faster breathing and faster heart rate
- change the position of the tail
- mouth licking
- appetite change
- change position
- Change the position of the ear
- Motion change
- Change in social contact
- extreme vigilance
- plucking fur or feathers
- Defecation and urination out of fear
Stress keeps you awake
Although stress is often annoying, it isn’t necessarily bad. Imagine that you are walking down the street and your body does not react by jumping away (the flight reaction due to a fearful situation) when it hears the sound of an approaching car. The response that the body gives to acute stress keeps you alert and has a survival function. The same is true for your pet, because they may also end up under that car.
With acute stress, the body experiences a fight-or-flight, fidget-or-freeze response. Animals can attack, run away, act anxious, or become cruel
During the stress response, the body releases stress hormones to prepare it for the well-known “fight or flight” response. For pets, on the other hand, expect not two responses, but four: “fight, flight, fidget, or freeze.”
- Fighting (attacks): This is active stress or anxiety. The animal may display aggressive behavior to remove the stimulus or threat from its environment. An example is biting when someone unexpectedly enters their territory.
- Flight: You see in the flight response that the animal is trying to get away from the situation. The animal tries to avoid the stimulus and / or the situation, hiding or being in a low position (lower back, tail between the legs or turns).
- Fidgeting (nervous/anxious behaviour): The animal is conflicted with its emotions and doesn’t really know what to do. Here you see signs such as lip licking and other signs of fear. You often see with cats that they suddenly begin to brush themselves.
- Freezing: The animal freezes and does not move while the stimulus/situation is occurring. Although the animal looks calm, it is very nervous. Then do not think that your pet is fine because he is calm, because like death something bad will happen.
Don’t panic right away
It is not the case that a single sign directly indicates something that you have to do something with. If for a moment the animal is startled, and therefore there is acute stress, but the animal recovers well after that, then you do not have to sound the alarm. Acute stress can be annoying, but it depends on how severe it is, how long it lasts, and how often it occurs,” the vet explains.
Animals that suffer from chronic stress and therefore have abnormalities in their normal behavior are considered unhealthy
The effects of chronic stress
On the other hand, if an animal (or human) is under stress for a long time, this has adverse effects. The ability to learn and the immune system often begin to function less well. Chronic stress also has detrimental effects on multiple organs and the body becomes fatigued, Rivler says.
What can you do if you often recognize (one of) the above signs in your animal? According to Reffler, the question is always “Where does this tension come from?” For example, have you noticed that your dog gets stressed when seeing the neighbor’s dog? Then take a different route or walk your dog at a different time. Or do you notice that your cat comes home stressed in the evening? Then keep it inside at night. If you know where the tension comes from, it is essential to avoid this stimulus, if possible.
The causes to which an animal (or human) is subjected to stress are called stressors in (veterinary) medicine. There are two different types of stressors: physical And Psychological† With physical stress, the animal experiences pain or illness. But it can also be caused by thirst, hunger, or it is, for example, too cold or hot,” explains Reifler.
Animals can worry about something just like people do. These fears fall under psychological stress. The fear of fireworks, and the fear of hearing a loud bang, is well known. Other examples could be: an unexpected environment, animals that do not like each other but live in the same house, or meet each other on the street.
Stress occurs when an unpredictable and/or uncontrollable situation occurs for a pet. Because psychological stresses often appear to be more mysterious than physical stressors, these causes are sometimes difficult to identify.
Radar has previously written about how to reassure your pet when they have a fear of fireworks. Read the article for tips.
Contact a veterinarian or specialist
It is important to know your pet. If you notice a lot of changes in your animal’s behavior, but you don’t know where it came from, it’s a good idea to see a vet. And then he can suffer from chronic stress. “If the animal’s behavior has not escalated yet, vets can give good advice.”
If the resulting treatment proves inadequate, it is time to seek advice from a behavioral medicine specialist. Hence the animal may deal with more complex problems, which can lead to behavioral problems. Sometimes these problems are difficult to treat. For these matters, you can contact Valerie Juncker Sheehy and Laura Reifler at Evidencea Animal Hospital in Neugen. Valerie Jonker-Sheehe is currently the only specialist in this field in the Netherlands.