Signs of Stress in Companion Animals

Long term care (LTC) settings can be stressful places for animals as well as people at
times. It is important for staff and residents to learn to recognize the signs of stress
which may be exhibited by animals living in their facility. Failure to recognize stress
signals can affect the long-term physical and mental well being of both the animals
and humans in this environment. Please note that some of the signs listed below may
also be caused by health-related problems. Consultation with a veterinarian may be

Signs of Stress in Dogsdog

  • Panting and salivating
  • Pacing
  • Shedding
  • Diarrhea/ bowel movements
  • Inappropriate urination
  • Licking the lips
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Trembling
  • Shaking (as if the animal were shaking off water)
  • Yawning
  • Whining, excessive vocalizing
  • Nipping
  • Growling when approached to be handled
  • Sweaty paws(leaving sweaty paw prints on the floor)
  • Increased or decreased activity
  • Excessive scratching or licking repeatedly
  • ‘Spacing out’ by turning away or avoiding eye contact
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hiding behind the handler
  • Hiding under furniture or behind nursing station; refusing to
  • interact with residents/staff or voyage beyond nursing station area

birdSigns of Stress in Birds

  • Depression
  • Moodiness or irritability
  • Excessive activity
  • Feather picking
  • Increased pecking
  • Increased elimination
  • Inactivity or sluggishness
  • Lack of desire to socialize
  • Abnormal vocalization
  • Ruffled feathers
  • Sitting at the bottom of the cage, listlessness

CatSigns of Stress in Cats

  • Restlessness, distraction, agitation
  • Listlessness, unusual passivity
  • Defensive vocalizations
  • Excessive shedding
  • Dilated pupils
  • Biting
  • Inappropriate urination/defecation
  • Clinging
  • Hiding and refusing to interact with humans or other animals

RabbitSigns of Stress in Rabbits

  • Eyes enlarge and show whites
  • Body tenses with tail up
  • Ears laid back tightly
  • Growling or squeaking
  • Rabbit pushes hand away
  • Lack of vitality or interest
  • Flinches when touched
  • Breathing becomes rapid
  • Biting animals

fishCauses of Stress in Animals

  • Unusual noises
  • Unknown places
  • Confusing or inconsistent training or handling
  • People exhibiting strange or unusual behavior
  • Unpredictable or rough handling
  • Unusual odors
  • Being crowded by people or other animals
  • A resident or staff member being nervous or acting in a strange way from the animals perspective
  • Extreme indoor and outdoor temperatures
  • Housing or resting area in an inappropriate place, not able to get adequate rest as a result
  • Requiring the animal to be up and active 24 hours a day to match the staff shifts of facility
  • Too many animals (whether the same or a different species) within the same general area causing crowded territory issues (How many is too many? The animals will tell you!)
  • Inadequate exercise or mental stimulation
  • Inadequate diet for species
  • Humans ‘anthropomorphizing’ animal behavior thus causing behavior problems
  • Inappropriate or excessive feeding of animals
  • Visiting animals from outside the facility coming into their territory (You need to be forewarned when visiting animals are coming in.)