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The Behavior Department: A Beginner's Guide to Stress Across Species

Recognizing, preventing, and reducing stress in birds and small mammals

Stress is everywhere in the animal shelter: It’s in the kennels, the lobby, the executive offices. There’s no getting away from it. Dogs spin, cats get sick, people quit.

Shelters have come a long way in identifying and preventing stress in dogs and cats—and many have developed good people-care programs, too. But how many shelter workers can recognize stress in a parakeet? Who knows how to keep a ferret from freaking out? Are your rabbits’ disapproving glances a cause for concern?

Many shelters break up their intake statistics into three groups: dogs, cats, and “other.” But those “other” animals represent a huge variety of species. There are rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, chinchillas, hamsters, gerbils, mice, rats, and dozens of species of birds. While some of these creatures share certain similarities, others are vastly different, and it’s essential that all species receive appropriate individualized care. More than anything else, proper, species-specific care can go a long way to prevent stress—which in turn leads to improved health, and to better chances for adoption.

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