Stress & Animal Wellness


Understanding the role of stress is one of the first principles of the Animal PsychAromatica Wellness System. If your animal is not well and happy you can guarantee there is some stress at work. Your first step in healing your animal is to understand stress, ways it manifests and how you can reduce it.

What is Stress?

The ‘Stress response’ is a physiological cascade that is triggered when a mammal is confronted by a threat – physical or emotional, real or imagined. The hypothalamus causes the sympathetic nervous system to release epinephrine and norepinephrine (also known as adrenaline and noradrenaline) and other related hormones.

When released into the body, these messengers propel you into a state of arousal (your metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and muscle tension all increase) so you can get away from the stressor. This is known as the fight-or-flight response.

The stress response is designed to give a short, sharp boost when danger is present, followed by a relaxation response once the stressor has gone. It is an essential function for all animals, without which we would not live long.

Stress becomes chronic when stressful situations are not short-lived and the urge to act (to fight or to flee) must be suppressed. Chronic stress leads to a wide variety of problems because the stress response has an impact on many bodily systems, as mentioned above. If the stress response does not turn off as it is designed to do, the systems are not allowed to normalise causing physical or psychological problems.

Dog looking stressed

Withdrawals and deposits

Stress is the major cause of disease, however it is also a natural part of life. We cannot and should not try and get rid of it completely, it as a question of keeping a balance. Like sound financial management, if you make a withdrawal from the account, you must later make a deposit if you don’t want to end up bankrupt. 

So what are withdrawals on the stress bank, and how can you make a deposit?

A withdrawal is anything that upsets an animal’s natural function of homeostasis (the body’s natural tendency to keep itself in healthy balance), such as poor diet, confinement, lack of socialisation or mental stimulation. Major stressors include uncomfortable or unsuitable physical conditions, or stressful psychological environments. This could be applicable to most domestic animals.

Animal PsychAromatica makes deposits to the stress balance through:

  • Essential oils and other aromatics to balance the body and mind, increase immune responsiveness, relieve past trauma and for general relaxation
  • Reducing environmental stress through species specific management
  • Educating the human about his animal’s needs and how they can communicate more clearly, reducing stress for both partners

Essential oils heal body & mind

Essential oils have a wide range of actions and heal body and mind. Almost all essential oils reduce stress and increase immune responsiveness. Providing oils to an animal to self-medicate also reduces stress as it puts them back in charge of their life.

When an animal guardian offers essential oils they become attentive to their animal. You must be patient and present in order to facilitate the treatment and follow the animal’s wishes about how he wants to interact with the oils. Being together quietly reduces stress both parties and builds trust.

Species specific management

One of the most important ways to reduce stress is to understand your animal’s innate requirements for health, the social and physical hard-wiring that is the outcome of millenia of evolution. You can then create an environment that fulfills an animal’s physiological and psychological needs. There are simple ways the average animal guardian can provide a lifestyle and diet as close as possible to natural – even if you don’t have twenty-five square miles of open prairie where your horses can roam.

Identifying stress

The most obvious indicator of stress is illness, however an animal guardian who is alert to his animal will notice any changes in behaviour, attitude, or movement, find out what the cause of the change is and remove the stressor before it can develop into a more serious problem. Any behaviour that is abnormal for a particular animal is the symptom of a stressed body/mind system; if your dog is suddenly more anxious it is the first sign of an imbalance that can become an illness, such as skin problems, or digestive upset.

Some animals develop behaviours easily recognisable as a stress response, such as incessant barking, aggression, and a whole range of stereotypies, such as cribbing, tail chasing or self-mutilation. However there are other indicators of stress that can be easily overlooked such as scratching and rubbing, bumping into you, ‘ticklishness’, lack of concentration, running away, pawing, lack of eye contact, or a lack of playfulness.

Stress in the body

When stress manifests in the body the skin is often the first place to show signs, because the skin is the safest place to unload toxins. Common early signs that the body is suffering from stress are increased sensitivity to flies or midges, slow healing wounds, poor quality coat and hooves, or fungal infections.

If the stress is not reduced at this stage it is likely to move more deeply into the body and start to affect internal organs, such as the digestive or circulatory system, leading to digestive upset, soft tissue damage, allergies, or metabolic illnesses. Weight loss or an inability to gain weight are also signs of stress.

How to reduce stress

As soon as you notice changes in your animals’ mood or behaviour, ask yourself.” What can I do to reduce stress?”. Check that your animal has all his needs met, such as a species appropriate diet; free association with his own species, or those he chooses to be with; the right level of mental and physical stimulation (not too much, not too little).

Ask, did anything change in his environment that could have upset him? How are you feeling? Are there changes in your life? Or are you just now seeing the outcome of years of chronic stress?

Make necessary management changes if you can. Offer essential oils or herbs for self-selection and spend quality time together doing not very much. Try and hear what your animal is saying to you. We all feel less stressed when we know someone is listening.

If you would like to learn more about stress, essential oils and how to have truly healthy, happy animals check out our online courses.

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Essential Oils & Animal Behavior

I have always had a special interest in animal behavior and helping animals adapt happily to domestication. Essential oils make my work a whole lot easier. But still it is important that we understand the root cause of behaviors that are problematic for the animal, and the humans that care for them. That root is stress.