Recognizing Stress

light bulb iconAnimals that are experiencing stress are at higher risk of becoming ill.

  • As a proactive measure, evaluate any environmental factors that might cause or contribute to an animal’s stress reaction (see Facility Assessment).
  • Ensure that staff is trained to recognize signs of animal stress, in each of the different species commonly encountered, as well as unsuccessful adaptation to the animal centre environment.

cat sleeping in box

Common signs of stress and behavioural decline:

  • Changes in original behaviour documented at intake
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Lack of normal self-maintenance behaviour i.e. eating, grooming
  • Excessive grooming, possibly causing injury
  • Depression, listlessness
  • Stereotypies such as spinning or compulsive behaviour
  • Inappropriate elimination
  • Feigned sleep

If you have an animal exhibiting other signs that you are unsure about, please click here for a more detailed list of indicators of stress. For full AAHA Behavioural Management Guidelines, click here.


Ongoing stressors can cause an escalation of the dog’s state from mild anxiety to aggressive behaviour, as illustrated in the diagram below:

ladder of agression

For more information, click here.


Ongoing stressors can severely impact or compromise a cat’s immune status and physical health. See below for graphic examples of progressive states from mild anxiety to defensive aggression.

cat diagram body hunched

cat diagram arched back

cat diagram showing agression

For more details regarding behavioural signs and postures, click here.

We need to be particularly concerned about stress in cats in a communal cat setting. For more details regarding communal cat housing, click here.

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