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Vet Talks: Stress Can Make Your Sick Pet’s Treatment More Difficult

Vet Talks 3 min read

Our pets share our lives with us and therefore they can experience a lot of the same stresses that we do. Many new situations, life changes and habits can end up causing your pet high levels of stress. Not only can stress harm their health, it also aggravates any illness and can make their treatment more complicated.

How can stress harm a sick pet?

In domestic animals, it has been shown that some stressors lead to behavioral problems, physiological disorders and reproductive disorders.

Stress causes several changes in the hormonal system that lead to increased production of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which are important in hormones for stimulating the body and leaving our pets prepared to face challenges.

It is known that high levels of cortisol influence the immune response, inhibit inflammatory response, affect T-cell performance, and decrease leukocyte migration to inflamed areas. This mechanism may be beneficial temporarily, such as in acute situations when  you want to decrease the inflammatory response. However, in chronic situations this can become very harmful. If stress is prolonged, glucocorticoids act destructively on tissues, inhibiting somatic and bone growth.

I personally have found,  in my scientific research, that stress can affect the immune system. These results can be seen in the article that was published by Neuroimmunomodulation journal.

Why is stress management important for all sick pets?

If your pet is sick and is showing signs of stress, besides treatment and support specifically for the illness, it is pertinent that you also manage stress levels. Stress or anxiety can make treatment more difficult and can even undo the positive effects that your other efforts are bringing. It can also alter the results of blood work and lead to improper diagnosis. This is why taking necessary steps to reduce stress, such as adding a natural anxiety blend like Lesstress or Matricalm to their regimen will be extremely beneficial. It will help your pet be calm, supporting the immune system and helping the medications, treatments or supplements to do their job better. It is especially important when your pet is battling a serious disease like cancer, Cushing’s disease or skin infections that you take steps towards stress management for the benefit of their long term health.

Stressful Situations to Avoid When Your Pet is Sick

Stress in animals can be caused by a variety of factors, such as fear of strangers, poor coexistence with other animals, mistreatment, changes in the environment, even changes in temperature. When an animal encounters a very unbalanced stress frame, it can be considered a depressive state that can lead to other more serious diseases. For example, in pets such as dogs and cats, it is common that they sense their owners mood. They create strong bonds which, indirectly, generate stress. The same happens when animals have not been trained or is accustomed to certain situations. For example, when a dog is left alone frequently, it is common that separation anxiety might develop. Another situation that can easily lead to stress for our pets is new or frightening environments. Long car journeys, being in crowded, noisy, hot places or frequent changes of residence can be very stressful for all involved. A lack of affection and attention from their owner can also be a major cause of stress in pets.

For smaller animals, such as turtles and fish, having an adequate habitat is vital. These types of pet require habitats which are adequate in size, are kept clean and receive the appropriate amount of sunlight.

If you have an exotic animal, it is important to conduct a research on how to properly care for them. Unfortunately birds can suffer serious health problems and mental damage due to boredom, loneliness, confinement and being forced to live in a small space. One clear example is feather plucking, often seen in birds which are stressed.

The best thing you can do to combat stress is to be aware of the animal’s temperament; sudden attitude changes can be an indication that something isn’t quite right. To help reduce your pet’s stress level you can use Matricalm or Lesstress. These are herbal formulations that reduce anxiety, agitation, aggressive behavior, or excitability.


Dr. Amanda Nascimento, DVM, MVSc., PhD completed her undergraduate degree in veterinary medicine in 2010 and graduate studies in veterinary pathology (MVSc. 2012 and PhD 2016) at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of São Paulo. She completed her post-doctoral training at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine – University of Saskatchewan in 2018. Dr. Nascimento will be hosting her own blog series and sharing her knowledge with our extended NHV family.

Published: May 25, 2018

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