Pets May Suffer When There Are Changes At Home

By Ken Tudor, DVM on Apr. 22, 2014

The previous post, Is Household Stress Making Your Pet Sick?, chronicled the effect that a rambunctious 2-year old had on an older dog. This post relates how household activity and changes in owner schedules can affect the health of your pet.

Case #2: The Vomiting Cat

A client brought her cat to me for a sudden onset of vomiting. The pet was about 8 years old and had been very healthy to this point. Blood and urine analysis were normal, as were the X-rays. I asked the owner about any abnormal activity in the household and she indicated that things were all the same. Suspecting some sort of inflammatory stomach or upper intestinal condition, I put the cat on a regime of prednisone and my tried-and-true all meat diet as a 2-week treatment trial.

Within a week the owner was back in the office with the cat complaining that the cat was still vomiting and now its appetite was decreased. The owner declined repeating the laboratory test and a possible ultrasound examination to try and pinpoint the problem. I queried her more about the household environment. She said nothing had changed. The six house guests that had arrived two weeks previously were still there and the fever pitched preparations for her daughter’s wedding had not changed. Things were as hectic as they had been for the last two weeks.

As she detailed the activity in the household to me, I saw the lights go on in her face. She finally realized that all of the commotion related to the wedding may be making her cat ill. I gave her medication to help control the cat’s vomiting and a dosage for generic Pepcid for possible gastric irritation or ulcer. She was also instructed to stay on the all meat diet until the house was back to normal.

In a follow-up phone call two weeks later, the client informed us that the cat was doing fine. The wedding was held a week previous to our call and the house guests had also been gone for a week. The owner had discontinued the medications and the cat was eating its normal food without any problems.

Case #3: The Yorkie with Bloody Diarrhea

On a Monday, a hysterical couple presented their young Yorkie to me for severe bloody diarrhea that had started the previous Saturday. The dog’s physical exam was normal and seemed healthy other than the severe bloody diarrhea. The owners were sure that he some terrible condition and they were going to lose him. He and his housemate, another Yorkie, were extremely spoiled and well-taken care of. They received their regular annual exam, fecal parasite exams, and vaccines.

Blood and urine tests were normal and X-rays did not reveal any abnormalities or suggestions of intestinal foreign bodies and blockage. I assured them that the condition was probably a severe case of colitis or inflammation of the colon. They were not going to lose their dog. I explained that colitis was just a symptom, not a disease, resulting from environmental, dietary, or metabolic (something going on inside the body) stress. Having ruled out metabolic stress with the lab tests and X-rays, I questioned them about dietary changes or household changes.

The wife immediately confronted her husband about what he fed them while she was away for the weekend. He admitted that he had given them some of his fast-food because the ill pup was not eating well in the wife’s absence. I suggested that dietary stress may be the answer. They asked why it didn’t affect the other dog. I didn’t have an answer. I gave them a medication to calm the colon and recommended a bland diet of cottage cheese and rice for a couple of days.

The following Monday they were in my office again with the same dog and the same symptoms. I again asked about the environment and they said everything was the same and the husband had not given any treats over the weekend. They said the treatment had worked for the previous episode. I had no answers and suggested repeating the treatment.

This pattern continued for two weeks with the wife calling me every Monday to report the episode. The following week the husband came in on a Wednesday with the dog and the same symptoms. We discussed the case and possible diagnostic directions we could take. His wife called during the visit demanding to talk to me and explain her dog’s illness. I looked puzzled and the husband told me she was in San Diego for the week for training for her new job. This was unusual, he said, because she was generally in San Diego just on the weekends. And when had she started her new job? The same weekend the symptoms of their dog started!

I took the phone and let her vent. When she was done, I calmly asked about the relationship of the dogs to the couple. She told me that the ill dog was “her” dog. The healthy one was closer to the husband. I looked at her husband and asked into the phone if they thought it was a coincidence that “her” dog was getting sick when she was away? She fell silent and he looked sheepish. After they started initiating treatment for colitis before she left town, I have only had occasional calls from them for unrelated, minor problems.

What stress makes your pet ill?

Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: Kachalkina Veronika / Shutterstock


Is Household Stress Making Your Pet Sick? (Part 1 of Can Stress at Home Make Your Pet Sick?)


Ken Tudor, DVM


Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health