How to Tell if Your Pet Is Stressed

Written by Marie Schuett

October 31, 2022🞄

Did you know that your small mammal can become stressed, just like you? As a prey species, it’s no surprise that your pet may be a bit jumpy when encountering new stimuli, but ongoing stress can lead to illness or even death. So, it is vitally important to be able to identify signs of stress in your little one so that you can identify the stressor and remedy it.  

Small herbivores are active and inquisitive by nature. They enjoy exploring their environment and generally enjoy interacting with companions. They love to eat and should be grazing on their hay consistently and getting excited about their favorite treats. Interacting with your fuzzy friend daily allows you to learn their singular personalities and gives you a better chance to notice if something isn’t right. 

Signs of Stress in Your Pet Can Include:  

  • Lethargy 
  • Hiding 
  • Sitting hunched in a ball 
  • Aggression 
  • Biting at cage bars or water bottle 
  • Restlessness or pacing 
  • Overgrooming 
  • Excessively watchful or spooks easily 
  • Changes to eating habits  

As is the case for you and I, there are a variety of factors that can cause stress for our small herbivores.  As a prey animal, your pet will naturally be cautious and always on the lookout for potential danger. As a result, stress is an easy state for any prey species to enter into.  Therefore, it’s vitally important to be fully aware of potential stress triggers for your herbivorous companion.

What Causes Stress in Pets?​

Environmental Stressors for Pets

Environmental stresses such as fear-inducing stimuli like sudden loud noises or a cat that enjoys watching them are obvious environmental stressors, but there are also more subtle causes of stress. These can include:  

  • Not having a large enough cage 
  • Lack of adequate ventilation 
  • Poor lighting 
  • Temperature fluctuations 
  • Lack of access to food or water (sometimes resulting from overprotective cage mates) 

Social Stressors for Pets 

Social stresses like having too many animals in one cage or the loss of a cage mate can cause emotional turmoil for our little furry friends. Introducing a new cage mate can also cause stress, particularly if they are struggling to get along. They tend to be consistent in their day-to-day habits and schedules so any deviation can cause stress and anxiety. It is important to learn as much about the social structure of the species.  For example, do they prefer to be alone or in groups? Do they need a friend or would having others cause territorial disputes?  Knowing the answers to these questions will help you proactively limit potential social stress in your pet’s daily life.   

Mental Stressors for Pets  

Mental stressors are a common cause of anxiety and fear for our small pets.  Keeping them active and happy in a caged environment can be tricky and it’s not just simply providing them a place to sleep and plenty to eat and drink. Just like us, they get bored easily if they aren’t getting any environmental enrichment. A lack of mental stimulation can lead to a listless lifestyle. What behaviors do they exhibit in the wild and how can you supplement them in their environment? How much exercise do they need and how best can you provide ample space for play and exploring? 

How Do You Prevent Stress in Your Pet’s Life? 

Become an Expert on Your Pet 

First and foremost, educate yourself as much as possible about your pet.  Spend time learning important information about the specific behaviors and tendencies of the species in question, including:   

  • What environmental requirements do they need?  
  • How do they behave socially?  
  • What do they require for mental stimulation and what natural behaviors are important to them?  

Once you can confidently answer these and other species-specific questions, consider how you will be able to provide these things for them in your home.  

Provide Enrichment Every Day  

Learn about enrichment and explore what Oxbow has to offer. Each herbivore is different, but it is crucial to provide enrichment for them to both stave off stress but also give them a long and happy life.  Look into ways to provide them with ways to explore, play, chew and hide every day.  Some easy and effective tips for providing enrichment include:  

  • Stock up on toys and enrichment items so that you can cycle through them, providing them with different toys and enrichment can keep things from becoming boring and tedious.  
  • Change up their cage a bit every time you do a deep clean, moving their hides and toys around gives them a fresh new environment to explore.  
  • Provide nutritional enrichment by offering different hays, fruits, and veggies that are appropriate to their species. Hide some treats, pellets, or fresh herbs in their hay to promote those natural foraging instincts. 
  • If you have multiple little ones living together, consider offering food and water at several different locations, including in their litterboxes.  This promotes exercise as well as limits the opportunity for any resource-protecting behaviors.  

Keep A Watchful Eye Over Social Interactions

If you have a multi-pet household, keep a close eye on the whole group to make sure no one is getting picked on or exhibiting aggression toward anyone else. Make sure your pets have plenty of room so that they can get away and take breaks from each other if necessary.  

Keep other species separated as much as possible, especially natural predators like dogs or cats.  This is especially important if your canine and feline friends have caused stress to your prey species in the past.  If you allow supervised inter-species interactions, ensure your little one has an escape route to a place they feel safe. 

When in Doubt, Consult Your Veterinarian  

If your little one starts exhibiting any noticeable signs of stress, make sure you take them to the vet as soon as possible to ensure that there is no underlying cause you may not be aware of. Prevention is half the battle, but sometimes it can’t be avoided.  Your veterinarian will be an excellent resource to come up with options to lower your little one’s stress level. As always, Oxbow is also here to help!