The effect of the new normal on pet stress
With COVID-19 changing the way we live and work, many humans had encountered more stress than usual. While we can process what is happening and work on ways how to adapt, animals are not equipped to do that and for them the new routines had turned their lives upside down as well.
According to the head of animal behaviour science at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center in the US, Stephanie Borns-Weil, while reactions of individual dogs and cats may vary greatly, change in general is very challenging for most animals.
“Although our pets may enjoy getting to spend more time with us, the dramatic shift in their routines stresses many of them out,” Borns-Weil said in an online post. Many pets could become increasingly needier and be constantly underfoot, some could start barking incessantly to go outside.
Now that many pets are finding their owners at home, why not keep begging for their next meal or sitting at the door? It worked previously. Pets are looking to us as humans to relieve their own stress or anxiety and they limited ways of asking for what they need. The only exercise many people and their pets get is to go for walks. This could lead to territorial barking.
Cats in general experience stress differently than dogs, say behaviourists and could become overwhelmed by strangers in the house. Cats can express stress through changes in bathroom behaviour such as urinating outside the litter box.
And while dogs are more apt to turn toward us when they’re feeling stressed, cats are more prone to turn away. Owners should look out for depression in cats – if they are hiding all day and avoid members of the family.
Although none of these pet-behaviour problems are insurmountable. “When we’re all trapped in the house together 24/7 and have to get things done, any of these situations can put a lot of tension on the human-animal bond,” said Borns-Weil, said.
She suggests a few strategies to assist your pet:
Be patient with your pet. “If you feel yourself getting angry with your pet, remember that they’re not trying to be naughty. Animals don’t know how to be vindictive.
“They do not know our buttons and if they push them, it is purely by accident. Our pets are engaging in frustrating behaviours because they do not understand what is happening and are trying to communicate an unmet need. What they are in fact saying is, ‘I need more enrichment’ or ‘I’m worried and I’m trying to get your attention.’”
Create and stick to a routine. The more consistent we can be with a daily routine, the clearer we are about what our pets can expect during this time of change. Stick to regular meal and walk times and schedule in opportunities for your pets.
Give dogs and cats some space. Pets need both quiet time and boundaries. “Being around people all day, every day, can be a lot for animals “To put it in human terms, they may start to feel like they’re like they’re always on call.” Give dogs and cats places they can escape to for a break. Whether it’s a beanbag bed, open crate, or corner of the couch for your dog or a window perch or chair back for your cat, designate their favourite spot as a place where no one is allowed to bother them. “And when your pet is in that place, don’t let anyone pick them up, move them, pet them, or feed them,” she said. “This will help your animals their resilience and ability to cope with unusually high levels of social interaction,” is advice for any pet owner to take note of.