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Stress in the City

Stress in the City

Physiological and psychological stressors affecting pets in the urban environment
David Rosenblatt, D.V.M.

Stress can have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of pets. It has been substantiated, that significant changes, such as joyous or sad family events, home relocation, adoption of an additional pet, etc., can often be tied to changes in health.
This article will focus on a number of unique characteristics of the urban environment, that can be a source of stress, and which might affect the mental and/or physical health of city dwelling pets.
1. Abandonment anxiety: City pets are often left alone in their owners’ apartment for long hours at a time. Pets may experience a recurring feeling of being abandoned. This state can trigger undesirable behaviors such as aggression, depression, toilet accidents, appetite changes and more. While this anxiety cannot always be totally eliminated, there are ways to mitigate it:
Cats: Consider raising more than one cat. If they get along, their mutual friendship will alleviate loneliness and keep them busy. Also, try to give your cats access to a large window or balcony, from which they can’t escape, and that offers a view of the outside world.
Dogs: In most cities you can hire the services of a professional dog walker. Being able to take a walk and meet friends while you are away, can considerably reduce anxiety associated with long periods of being home alone.
2. Sensory overload: Dogs and cats emerged from their wild ancestors only a few thousand years ago, and their genetic makeup hasn’t yet adapted to urban life. Their sense of sight, hearing and olfaction are highly developed. A dog, for instance, creates in his mind an entire reality of his surroundings based on smell alone, similar to what we do with our eyes. The urban environment is flooded with sights, sounds and smells that do not exist in nature. These sensory stimuli are received at extremely high frequencies and intensities, often exceeding your pet’s ability of coping and deciphering. This overload can cause unhealthy stress and anxiety. This stress can’t be avoided, but it is beneficial to expose your pets to calming botanicals and herbs, and to offer your dogs an escape from the city bustle by taking them to the countryside from time to time, and to quiet parks as much as possible.
3. Orthopedic stress: This is characteristic of city dogs who, as opposed to their rural counterparts, are often confronted with a large number of stairs. Stairs are a great solution to allow bipeds to move between different elevations, but four-legged creatures are less adapted to this, and can suffer from stress on their fore and hind limbs. In addition, the style of play in city dog parks involves a lot of sharp and abrupt turns while running rapidly, due to the often-limited size of the park, putting additional stress on their leg joints. We can address this issue by using elevators, choosing routes with slopes instead of stairs and feeding diets that contain glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate to support joint health.
4. Biological and chemical stress: Dogs in the city meet a much larger number of different dogs, compared to wild canids who live in homogenous packs. This increases exposure to contagious pathogenic organisms, challenging the dog’s immune system. In addition, dogs and cats are exposed to city air pollution, which can elevate oxidative stress at a cellular level. To help your pet in managing these stress factors, it is important to follow your veterinarian’s vaccination and anti-parasite plan carefully. Also, diets containing herbs and botanicals known for their antioxidative properties offer additional support for the immune system and can provide protection from cellular oxidative processes.
In summary, living with a pet in the city is highly recommended and can bring joy and companionship into our lives. But we must remember, that we have removed our furry friends from their original habitat and placed them into one that is totally foreign to their genetic make-up. By choosing the right diet and lifestyle we can make their life better. Also, visit your veterinarian regularly, even if everything seems fine. You should make an appointment to see your vet whenever you are concerned with your pet’s health and a least once a year (twice a year for elderly pets).

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