Stress alone is generally not sufficient to produce serious disease, but stress imposed upon pre-existing disease can contribute to disease progression. To explore this phenomenon, cold-immobilization stress was imposed on young 12.5 month, necrotic phase with small vessel coronary spasm) and older (5 month, quiescent phase, between necrosis and heart failure) cardiomyopathic hamsters. Our hypothesis was that changes in mitochondrial energy processes are involved in stress induced pathology. Polarographic and high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) techniques were used to measure mitochondrial respiration and oxidative phosphorylation and concentrations of phosphocreatine and adenylates, respectively, in hearts from young and old cardiomyopathic hamsters (stressed and unstressed). No significant differences were found between the young (2.5 month) and old (5 month) age groups in unstressed and stressed healthy hamsters and between young (2.5 month) and old (5 month) unstressed cardiomyopathic hamsters with respect to different parameters of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation and with respect to concentration of bioenergetic metabolites, except that ADP concentration was higher in older cardiomyopathic hamsters. Application of stress uncovered differences between young and old cardiomyopathic hamsters: respiration control index was lower and State 4 respiration was higher in young compared to old cardiomyopathic hamsters; whereas the total concentration of ATP was decreased to the same level in both cardiomyopathic groups when compared to control. Mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation in young cardiomyopathic hamsters was more sensitive to Ca2+, as evidenced by partial uncoupling of respiration and oxidative phosphorylation, than in older cardiomyopathic hamsters and controls. In conclusion, young cardiomyopathic hamsters, i.e. in the necrotic phase of disease, were more susceptible to stress induced changes in mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation than older cardiomyopathic hamsters and controls.