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How to provide stress relief for our pets

Updated on July 26, 2013
Misty asleep
Misty asleep | Source

Using music to relieve stress and separation anxiety

“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”

― David Mamet, Boston Marriage

The above quote by Mamet certainly echoes the sentiments of the little doggies and kitties that many of us own. Apparently, animals find it difficult to escape the snares of stress as much as we do. Food certainly helps them to get rid of pent up, overwhelming stressors and raise endorphin levels!

Yes, animals do suffer from the doggy,kitty and tweety versions of the provocative ailment of stress. Like us humans, they can suffer from their fair share of breakdowns when the stress bug starts to seal them in a cloistering envelope (or in many cases, cages). What are the causes and signs of these stressors and more importantly, how do we relieve them? What are the effects of stress on our furry friends?

A bored Cloudy.
A bored Cloudy. | Source

Causes of stress in our furry or tweety companions

What causes animals stress? Very much the same things that cause the jitters in us human beings. Some things on this list may be very familiar to pet owners.

Unusual noises

Unusual noises are as disturbing to animals as they are to us. Just as we would be alarmed by the noise of strangers entering our homes inappropriately, so would animals. They are able to distinguish sounds or movements that are potentially threatening.

This is why I have never had to remove or repair the doorbell outside my home. My dogs, Cloudy and Misty, react to the presence of strangers a tad faster than the doorbell would! Like all dogs, they react immediately when they hear something unfamiliar.

Unknown places

Being in unfamiliar environments throws animals a little off tangent. Perhaps more than us, animals feel threatened when they are within unfamiliar surroundings and react by whining,bristling or chirping louder than the norm.

I had a taste of this when I brought my dog, Misty to the vets’ recently. As soon as she was introduced to the outer environs of the clinic, she immediately defecated. Usually quiet, it was a way for my 11-year-old Schnauzer to show her discomfort with the new area.

Cloudy, my West Highland Terrier. took it a step further. She did battle with the veterinarian’s nurse when he tried to restrain her so that she could have her quarterly vaccination.

Confusing,inconsistent training or handling

Animals take a little time to get used to our communication signals. When we tell them to sit and they try to obey the signal, it throws them off course when we provide many instructions or commands at once.

This is why many dogs are confused with the “sit/stay” command. If we teach them to “sit” and introduce the “stay” command at once, the dog gets a little thrown off because it does not know whether to remain where it is or not.

Rough handling also throws a dog off course. At a grooming station a month or two ago, I witnessed one of the groomers practically throw a small chihuahua into his cage after its grooming session. It took little hesitation before I lodged a firm complaint.

The unusual behavior of humans

When humans start to behave out of the norm or show changes in their daily routine, animals find it a little difficult to get used to. My dogs get a little disturbed when I leave the house at a different time in the morning.


If anyone reading this article suffers from a little claustrophobia, it might help to know that you are not alone. Many of us do and animals nod their assent when I say they do too.

When too many of animals are crowded in a particular environment at once, it causes them the same discomfort and pressure that we feel. When we throw a few humans into the crowded mix, it worsens the tension. Territorial issues surface when they feel that their space is being threatened.

Extreme temperatures

We all know what it is like when the weather is too hot or cold for us. It should come as no surprise to find that changes in temperature cause the same reactions in animals.

Observe a dog after a bath. Some of them will tremble vigorously because of the unmoderated temperature of the water used.

Inadequate stimulation

Boredom in animals fuels high levels of stress. Their need for a change of environment or a stretch is as necessary for them as it is for us.

My dog, Cloudy, is always sulky in the morning because that is the time when we are usually busy and cannot take her out for her daily romp. The stress of waiting till after dinner sometimes takes its toll on her.

Inappropriate dietary habits

The wrong diet can cause an upset in the animal’s digestive system and bring about issues of nausea or allergic reactions that cause extreme discomfort for animals. Excessive feeding has the same effect of indigestion on animals as it does us, so it is good to do a little calculation to find out just how much your pet should eat.

Cloudy cannot adapt to any changes in diet. Eating something out of the ordinary causes her to vomit and scratch uncomfortably.

Iatrogenic stress

This fancy term actually refers to the stress caused by the fear of medical examinations. The Elizabethan collars that animals sometimes have to wear can be restrictive, as are the common medical smells experienced at the vet’s.

Cloudy evidenced this best when she fought - yes, practically fought - with the nurse at the vet’s when she was about to be given an injection.

Geriatric stress

Dogs feel the stress of age as we do. They feel listless as levels of cognition go down and their physical aptitude weakens. Dogs, in particular, can be prone to Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or or disorientation as they grow older.

A stressed up Corgi waiting for me to take his picture.
A stressed up Corgi waiting for me to take his picture. | Source

Which if these stressors do you think affects an animal the most?

See results

Signs of stress in our pets

Dogs, birds and cats have ways of showing us when their anxiety levels have gone up a notch. Observing these signs in animals could mean that it is time to pay attention to them or their environment.

Signs of stress in dogs

  • Panting and salivating

  • Frequent pacing

  • Shedding

  • Excessive bowel movements

  • Urinating in places he or she knows is inappropriate

  • Licking of the lips

  • Frequent coughs

  • Frequent sneezes

  • Dilated pupils

  • Trembling and shaking (as if the animal were shaking off water)

  • Yawning

  • Whining, excessive vocalizing

  • Nipping at strangers

  • Growling when approached to be handled

  • Sweaty paws(leaving sweaty paw prints on the floor)

  • Increased or decreased activity

  • Excessive scratching or repeated licking

  • Avoiding eye contact

  • Loss of appetite

  • Hiding behind their owners

Signs of stress in cats

  • Restlessness, agitation or distracted behavior

  • Listlessness, unusual passive behavior.

  • Defensive vocalizations or hisses

  • Excessive shedding

  • Dilated pupils

  • Biting

  • Inappropriate urination/defecation

  • Clinging

  • Hiding or refusing to socialize

Signs of stress in birds

  • Moodiness or irritable behavior

  • hyperactivity

  • Feather picking

  • Increased pecking

  • Increased elimination

  • Inactivity or sluggishness

  • Lack of desire to socialize

  • Excessive vocalization

  • Ruffled feathers

  • Listlessly sitting at the bottom of the cage

Signs of stress in rabbits

  • Enlarged eyes showing snow whites

  • Body tenses with erect tail

  • Ears tightly laid back

  • Growling or squeaking

  • Rabbit bats or pushes its owner’s hand away

  • Lack of interest

  • Tenses when touched

  • Rapid breathing

  • Abrupt biting

A stressed up parrot
A stressed up parrot | Source

Effects of stress on animals

The consequences of stress on animals can be frighteningly similar for them as they are for us. Breakdowns occur,both physically and emotionally, for pets as well.

Heightened cortisol and adrenaline levels

In the same way as it does for humans, cortisol hormones increase when stressors are introduced in an animal’s environment. Adrenaline and unhealthy states of excitement also occur. This increases the risk of cardiovascular disease in mammals.

Studies by Mark Wilson, a neuroscientist and Yerkes Primate Research centre have found that subordinate rhesus monkeys have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease than dominant females.

Disrupted reproductive cycles

Ladies are too familiar with irregular menstrual flows when they are overworked or experiencing hyperactivity. Animals experience the same distress too.

The same subordinate Rhesus monkeys involved in Wilson’s study have also shown a disruption in their reproductive cycles when they are harassed or dominated by other females, echoing our reactions when we face stressful situations at home or work.

Skin allergies

Animals experience the same breakouts as we do when we are stressed. Cats, for example, can experience dermatitis when stressed and start scratching.

Emotional upheaval

Boredom and loneliness can be factors that damage a pet’s psyche. This is why it is not advisable to crate a dog for long hours while at work. Long hours can lead to a pet’s perceived abandonment and hence depression.

A dog I photographed recently at a shelter.
A dog I photographed recently at a shelter. | Source

Ways to reduce stress in animals

Animals, particularly those in sheltered (and I do not mean protected) situations, tend to exhibit higher levels of stress than others. There are ways to make situations for comfortable for them, and consequently for us too.

Provide animals with opportunities for play.

A dog thrives on his kong toy, as a cat does with his scratch box or a ball of yarn. Opportunities for play reduce boredom.

Provide opportunities to socialize.

Animals are happiest when they are with friends, just as we are. Daily walks and introduction to other animals at dog runs or others in the neighborhood helps them to socialize and get accustomed to others of the animal and human kind. It rids the animals of the fear of strangers and reduces stress.

Provide adequate bedding.

Adequate bedding helps the animal feel a sense of security in much the same way a blanket does for Charles Shultz’s Linus. Good, secure bedding gives them a sense of comfort and the feeling of being cared for.

Do not stare.

We are all familiar with the tense feeling we get when someone looks over our shoulder or stares at us, We can also think of the many fights that break out because of a loose stare!

Staring has the same effect on animals as it does on us-it increases adrenaline and aggressive behavior borne out of the need for defense.

Do not loom over animals.

If you dislike having your privacy invaded, so would an animal. Looming over them represents threat and would cause stress and tension.

Do not force animals in or out of cages.

I am not an advocate of crating an any animal, but it sometimes has to be done on specific occasions for safety or for the ease of transport. Forcing them into crates is stressful for the animal, and if it resists, for the owner too.

If crating has to be done, gradually introduce the animal to the environment. Make his crate a part of the living room furniture and let him know that it is his place.

Talk softly with animals.

A gentle tone diminishes threat. Speak softly with animals and let them know that you do not mean to be intrusive. It always helps to lower defense mechanisms and reduce stress.


Reducing stress in animals is a key responsibility of pet owners. It benefits not only the pet, but ultimately the owner too.

Original work by Michelle Liew

All rights reserved


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    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      8 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Great hub on How to provide stress relief for our pets sometimes pet owners neglect this part about their pets they don't see what is actually going on, well researched and written. A useful and helpful hub.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      That's true, Gwen. Thanks for sharing and the wonderful vote.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Sad that our animals can exhibit human behavior such as stress. I found your hub useful and interesting. Voted it up for knowlegde and content. Thanks for sharing it! : )

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Hiya Meldz! Say hi to Butler for me. Hope these help him a bit....doggies hear so much better than we do, so will tend to run when there is thunder. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Now I understand our Butler if he hears thunder . He would follow me where ever I go. Thanks for the useful tips it really very much appreciated.

      Voted up and more. :-)

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      A true doggy at heart. :) Fireworks can throw dogs off a bit because their hearing level is so high. Humans do put stress on animals...if only more of them could accept that!

    • travmaj profile image


      8 years ago from australia

      Thank you for this - I'm lucky to have one very 'laid back' dog. Nell loves routine and comfort. The firework nights bother her although we usually anticipate this and see she's with us and comforted. The wind bothers her - she definitely wants to catch it. But nothing really phases her.

      Seems different breeds might be more 'stressed' than others.

      In reading this I can't help thinking of 'farmed' animals - battery hens etc.

      Stress would just be ongoing -

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thank you, Eddy.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      8 years ago from Wales

      Another very interesting and useful hub Michelle.

      Voted up and passed on to my family.

      Have a great day.


    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Alexadry!! Say hi to the dogs for me!!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Mary! We don't get many fireworks here, but the vacuum does it for Cloudy too. Straight under the bed she goes when that's on. Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Livingsta!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Jaye. Yes, calming music specifically catered for dogs does help to reduce fireworks. Thanks for sharing!!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Lurana!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Oh yes...the vet does that to these animals, though, kidscrafts! It's the same feeling we get going to the doctor. Thanks for sharing.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Hiya Bill! Oh yes. The fireworks would scare them a bit, not forgetting that they hear so much better than we do. Thanks for sharing!!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks,Janine! Hope they'll find it helpful for the puppy who's a little shy. Thanks for sharing!!!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, pinto2011!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Rebecca! I think the country lends a sense of tranquility....the animals feel it too! Thanks for sharing!

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      8 years ago

      A very nice hub that's very important for dogs, cats and birds!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      8 years ago from Florida

      Great info here! My Baby (Schnauzer) gets stressed out at loud noises, fireworks, etc. She hates the sound of the vacuum cleaner, too.

      Voted UP and shared, Pinned too.

    • livingsta profile image


      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Great hub Michelle! This was useful and interesting information. Thank you for sharing this with us. Voted up and sharing!

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      8 years ago from Deep South, USA

      This is a very thorough article with good information. Voted Up++

      My mini schnauzer is soothed when I massage her back and by listening to soft music with a slow tempo. The CD "Through a Dog's Ear" is the result of research into the type of music that calms dogs, and it often puts her to sleep.


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Truly important information for anyone with pets! I greatly appreciate your compassion and scholarship with this subject. ~Lurana

    • kidscrafts profile image


      8 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Great hub Michelle! My cats definitly suffer from "Iatrogenic stress". I think I suffer that for them too by empathy for them! I can tell you that we are all happy when we come back home ;-)

      When we go away on holidays, I try to keep the cats at home and have friends and/or family to take care of them. I find that it's better for them to stay in their environment.

      Your dogs are just cutie pies :-)

      One of these days, I should do a hub about my cats :-)

      Thanks for sharing, Michelle!

      Voted up, useful and interesting!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great information, Michelle! About the only time we really see stress in our dogs is on the 4th of July....they may well experience it at other times, but we don't notice it.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 

      8 years ago from New York, New York

      Great advice as usual though Michelle. I am passing this one onto Kevin's parents, because one of their dogs gets nervous around new people. And maybe this will help them a bit. Thanks so much for sharing and have also voted and shared as always my friend!!

    • pinto2011 profile image


      8 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Very meticulous writing midget! This article will relief a lot of stress of the pet owners.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      8 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Wonderful hub! It pays to pay attention to what stresses our pets. My dog just HATES riding in the city. She trembles and trembles. She loves riding in the country, though. Funny, isn't it?

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      An article on the causes of stress in animals and how to help them overcome it.


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