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Pets may suffer from stress too

Pets’ welfare depends on their physical and environmental situation and any changes can lead to stress. Lorella Fava learns how to recognise the symptoms.

Stress has today become somewhat of a cliché – some people complain about their stress almost every day and we’ve become so immune to it that’s nowadays almost considered a natural, ordinary feeling.

But have you ever stopped to think about whether other species feel stress too? Well, your pet may know something about it.

It may be hard to swallow that the fuzzy creature on your lap or at your feet has similar wiring to you, but it’s a fact perhaps more pet owners should embrace.

Geoffrey Schembri Adami, secretary of the Malta Veterinary Association, explains how the welfare of any pet animal, regardless of species, be it a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a guinea pig or even a reptile, depends on its physical and environmental situation.

Therefore any changes in these factors may have “repercussions on the animal’s well-being and therefore be a cause of suffering and stress”, he says.

One must also make sure that the pet’s habitat is appropriate. It must have the correct temperature, provide appropriate shelter and be a comfortable resting area

When speaking about the animals’ “well-being”, modern day ethologists (those who study animal behaviour) consider it to be dependent on what they refer to as the “five freedoms”. These include: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury or disease; freedom to express normal behaviour; and freedom from fear and distress.

Thus, when pets lose any of these “freedoms”, they may experience stress.

Pet owners can possibly eliminate some of their pet’s stress.

“They must provide ready access to clean water and make sure the animal is getting a well-balanced diet administered in the correct amounts to maintain full health and vigour,” says Schembri Adami.

“One must also make sure that the pet’s habitat is appropriate. It must have the correct temperature, provide appropriate shelter and be a comfortable resting area.”

The prevention of illness and diseases should also be at the top of the owner’s concerns, so one should provide regular veterinary check-ups, vaccinations and protection from external and internal parasites.

The vet also highlights the importance of “regular exercise and spending quality time with your pet”

“Pets are not meant to live alone and so even if all other aspects of your pet’s life are fully catered for, it does not mean that your job as an owner is done,” he says.

Moreover, how can one recognise the symptoms of pet stress?

Schembri Adami lists the most common signs in what are considered the two most popular pets – cats and dogs. Common symptoms among dogs include: vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, presence of blood in faeces; partial or complete loss of interest in food; unusual and constant isolation from people and other pets; damage in the household; and unjustified and unusual aggression towards people or other dogs or animals. (See boxes for full list)

When it comes to cats, common signs of stress and anxiety include: urinating outside the litter tray, presence of blood in urine, or difficulty to urinate; vomiting and diarrhoea; sudden change in diet; excessive licking and grooming; excessive scratching and damage to furniture and sofas; persistent isolation in dark hidden areas; and excessive and continuous vocalisation.

“When one or more of these signs are present, especially if these occur suddenly, it is essential that the pet owners concerned seek veterinary advice and, if necessary, have their pet animals clinically visited in order to identify any underlying medical condition followed by the necessary medical therapy,” Schembri Adami claims.

Pet owners thus seem to have a great influence on their pet’s well-being and it’s important to remember just how much pets depend on their owners.

“It is essential that owners realise that having a pet is a responsibility, and therefore the health, well-being and welfare of their pets depends very much on how responsible they are as pet owners.”

Most common signs of stress in dogs

• Vomiting;

• Diarrhoea;

• Constipation;

• Presence of blood in faeces;

• Sudden change in appetite, such as partial or complete loss of interest in food;

• Unusual and constant isolation from people and other pets, especially when the dog usually enjoys the company of people and other pets belonging to the same household;

• Damage in the household;

• Unjustified and unusual aggression towards people, including owners, or other dogs or animals.

Most common signs of stress among cats

• Urinating outside the litter tray;

• Presence of blood in urine, or difficulty to urinate;

• Vomiting;

• Diarrhoea;

• Constipation;

• Presence of blood in faeces;

• Sudden change in diet, such as partial or complete loss of interest in food;

• Excessive licking and grooming;

• Excessive scratching and damage to furniture and sofas;

• Persistent isolation in dark hidden areas;

• Excessive and continuous vocalisation, including during rest time.

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