Small brown and white dog standing on back leges to look out the window.

Is your pet stressed?

Fear, anxiety, phobias — humans aren’t the only ones who suffer from these stressors.

Your dog is trying to bury herself under your pillow during a thunderstorm. Your normally well-behaved kitty has started using the carpet instead of his litter box. Your new puppy cries pitifully when he doesn’t have your attention. What’s going on?

If your pet is exhibiting problem behavior — especially if it’s a sudden change in behavior — it may be time for a little detective work. Team up with your veterinarian to find out if some type of stressor is causing the behavior.

Stressors in dogs

Dogs can become upset and anxious for a variety of reasons.

  • Separation anxiety. Your dog loves to spend time with you, and that’s great — except when that excitement manifests as separation anxiety. About 14 percent of dogs have separation anxiety.1 These pups become overly agitated when left alone. They may pace, whine, bark, chew on (and possibly destroy) inappropriate items, and/or have accidents in the house.1-2
  • Changes in the environment. Fear of something new can prompt your dog or cat to avoid or hide when exposed to new people, objects or environments.3
  • Loud noises. A sudden, loud, and unexpected noise is startling for everyone. For your pet, it can be downright scary. Thunder, construction noise, and other loud sounds can drive your dog or cat to try to hide and/or escape.1 Pay special attention on and around July Fourth, when fireworks can really spook your pet. And remember, if the unthinkable happens and your pet gets lost, upgrade to a HomeAgain® premium recovery membership to help reunite you.
  • Aging and health concerns. You’re not at your best when you don’t feel well, and neither is your pet. A dog or cat experiencing physical pain may become aggressive. As pets get older, changes in their hearing, vision, and cognitive health can also affect their behavior.4 Your veterinarian is your best resource when it comes to discussing changes in your pet’s behavior that may involve aging or health issues.

Stressed dog behavior

Dogs that are feeling anxious or upset may exhibit symptoms1, 3 such as:

  • Showing aggression
  • Having accidents in the house
  • Chewing or other destructive behavior
  • Trying to hide or escape
  • Excessive barking and/or whining

Stressors in cats

As we’ve already discussed, cats can become stressed for some of the same reasons as dogs: new objects, people, or environments, issues around health and aging, and loud noises. In addition, cats can be sensitive to:

  • Scents. Your cat’s nose is much more sensitive than yours. Plus, your cat uses scent glands in her cheeks and paws to leave her own scent on objects. Sounds or smells that you may not notice — or may even find appealing — can overwhelm your cat and make her environment smell less like home. These include air fresheners, candles, and incense.5
  • Too much handling. Many cats love to be petted and cuddled — until they don’t. Too much human interaction for too long can make your kitty cranky.5
  • Urination litter box issues. Inappropriate urination or frequent litter box visits can be a sign of stress, particularly associated with Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC), a type of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). Stress can trigger or worsen FIC episodes, leading to painful urination. Talk to your veterinarian to help identify and address FIC.6

Stressed cat behavior

Stressed cat behaviors can be similar to dog behaviors, like showing aggression, destructive behavior, hiding/escaping, and excessive vocalization. Other signs include:

  • Excessive grooming. Your kitty likes to be clean, but excessive licking and grooming can be a sign of trouble, especially if it results in raw or bald patches.7
  • Isolation. If a small amount of hiding from new objects or people turns into long-term isolation, that can be an indicator of stress.7

What to do when your pet shows signs of stress

Now that you know some causes, let’s explore some tips for addressing stress in your cat or dog. First and foremost, contact your veterinarian for advice about major and/or sudden changes in behavior. Here are some additional steps to consider.

  • Start your puppy off right by having her spend time on her own in a safe place every day. This can lessen the chance of separation anxiety as your dog grows and matures.1
  • Make sure your pet isn’t in pain or having issues due to aging. A trip to the veterinarian can help determine if the stress is rooted in physical issues.1
  • Keeping to a familiar routine and reducing strange sights, sounds, and smells can help both your dog and your cat stay stress-free. So can appropriate exercise, play, and stimulation.


  1. Behavioral problems of dogs.
  2. Understanding, preventing, and treating dog anxiety.
  3. Behavior problems in dogs.
  4. Behavior problems in older dogs.
  5. Reducing stress for cats.
  6. Hunter T., Weir M., Ward E. Feline Idiopathic Cystitis. VCA Animal Hospitals.
  7. 10 signs your cat might be stressed. PetMD.

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