STRESS IN EXOTIC SPECIES
“Stress” is best described as any adverse, persistent stimulus. So in exotic species this can include both psychological and physical stress.
RABBITS AND GUINEA PIGS
These mammals are in nature prey species – ie: they are hunted. So they tend to be on the defensive more often than animals which do the hunting! Their response to stress is often the same as their strategy to avoid a predator – freeze and try to hide. So judging whether stress is a problem can be difficult.
Common stressors are:
- The presence of a predator in the area (dog, cat, hawk) – even the smell or sound of a neighbour’s animal can be quite stressful. Move their enclosure to the quietest part of your property – as far from other animals as possible and ensure neighbour’s animals cant be seen.
- Loud noises
- Handling – some are more used to this than others. In all cases these animals should be carefully lifted by sliding your hands under their body – NOT grabbing them from above.
- Poor diet – many commercially prepared pellets don’t provide the best nutrition
- Poor hygiene – these animals are as clean as any cat so if their cage is dirty this is quite stressful and bad for their health.
Long term stress will likely shorten your animals life so have them checked over by an experienced exotics veterinarian who can advise on the best ways to make their lives stress free.
Chickens are a social animal so do best in a group. There is a defined “pecking order” which, once established, avoids excessive aggression between the birds. Sudden changes in the group often lead to an imbalance in the pecking order, and injuries to lower status birds can be a problem. Introduce new birds carefully and monitor their progress. Don’t place a young chick into a group of adults – sometimes older and more established birds will kill young birds or new additions to the flock.
Egg laying breeds such as brown shavers are bred to produce far more eggs in a year than their wild cousins would. This places a huge physical stress on their system. High quality nutrition suitable for laying hens is needed to keep up with demand. Even then their lives are generally shorter than other breeds due to the physical demand of all those eggs.
All chickens need a run large enough for them to exercise, scratch for food and dust-bath. Free-range is always best if you can provide a safe environment from predators (cats, dogs and hawks). Try to avoid places where neighbours animals can see the birds as even the sight or sounds of a dog can be quite stressful. The birds will return to their coop each night so ensure this is kept clean and dry.
Parasites are a cause of physical stress to chickens so regular monitoring is essential. Worms, Coccidia and mites/Lice are common so have an experienced avian vet check for these several times a year.
Parrots and other cage birds can make lovely pets however owners have to understand the problems that can be associated and the stresses that can occur in such an “un-natural” lifestyle.
Any bird confined to a cage is not experiencing life as they would in the wild and no cage is big enough to compensate for this. To minimize the impact of this birds should be able to access a safe part of the house, or an outdoor aviary in which to “stretch their wings”. Interaction with family members including playing games is very beneficial. “Captive foraging” is a way to give your pet purpose in their day as they search for food in hiding places.
Some interactions with humans can be stressful however. Many parrots develop excessively strong bonds with one owner – they mistake us for their mate in the wild and can mis-understand our affection. This can lead to egg laying in females (which is never normal if there is no male bird present) and a variety of behavioural problems. Some birds will begin to pull their own feathers out as a result of stress. This is a serious issue that requires complex treatment.
While wing clipping is often used to avoid injuries or escapes, this is also acutely stressful for the bird. Only clip wings after discussing the pros and cons with an experienced avian vet as they will have seen the results when things go bad.
As birds are often prey species in the wild, they can be stressed by cats or dogs in the house – even the smell of a cat in the air is quite stressful. It is probably best to avoid keeping both these animals in the same house although there are examples of some strange friendships developing!
Have a regular check up with an experienced avian vet so they can give the best advice for a stress-free life for your bird.