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While the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the human population hard, our furry friends have had a completely different experience. Many of us are spending more time indoors with our pets while we work from home. Even if you’re not in a lockdown, a lot of workplaces are opting for partial work-from-home opportunities for employees.

Personally, my pets have been a huge help to me when in and out of lockdowns, dealing with uncertainty, and by being a welcome distraction. Our pets can have an incredibly positive impact on our health. They can lift our mood if we are feeling a bit low, and if you own a dog, they can give the excuse needed to go outside and get some exercise.

It’s pretty clear that we benefit from being around our pets more, but is the feeling mutual? Let’s take a closer look.

How has the pandemic impacted dogs?
Most dogs are thrilled to have us around more. For the most part, dogs are loving having their owners home all the time. They get to go on more walks, they get more one-on-one attention, and they enjoy having a presence in the house, even if they are napping the majority of the time.

Working from home means that the general routine is a bit different. Where once upon a time you might have squeezed in a walk before or after work, now you might be taking your dog out a few times a day. While most dogs love this, others are a little more sensitive to their routine being changed. Senior dogs in particular can become anxious when their routine changes suddenly, while a lack of strict routine with puppies can result in lots of behavioural issues down the track.

While I would say most dogs are happy with owners being home more often, we are starting to see how this has truly affected them now that we are returning to work either part-time or full-time.

Dog Day Care facilities are one of the first businesses within the industry that are noticing a big shift in behaviour. Dogs that have become accustomed to owners being home all day are now struggling with debilitating separation anxiety whenever the owner needs to leave.

Separation anxiety can present in a number of ways, but the most common include:

  • Emotional response: Crying, whimpering, and barking at the door when you leave the house
  • Self-mutilation: The dog may be so anxious that he chews at his paws or the base of his tail to express the nervous energy
  • Elimination issues: The dog may urinate in the house when he normally wouldn’t
  • Destructive behaviour: Chewing shoes, scratching the paint off the door, destroying the furniture
  • Inability to rest: The dog may pace around the house and in some cases will not settle until you return

What about cats?
As we know, cats are a very different creature to our dogs. Though some cats will be pleased with their owner being around more often, other cats will find the massive change in daily routine incredibly stressful. You may be home more often, and if you have children there may be periods during lockdown where they are not going to school. More people in the house means more noise, and more noise can cause an anxious cat!

Cats are very sensitive to any kind of change. What may be small to us could be a big deal for them. Moving furniture, having strangers in the home, moving the litter tray, or going away for a weekend can all create anxiety in cats. So, it makes sense that owners being home more often may also create the same feelings.

How does anxiety present in cats?

  • Elimination issues: An anxious cat will often urinate or defecate anywhere but the litter tray. Often opting for a place that feels “safe” such as under the bed or behind the lounge, as the litter tray is usually in a more open space in most households.
  • Hiding: Cats will retreat anytime they are anxious. Taking cover wherever they deem “safe”. Again, this is often in dark and quiet spaces such as under furniture. Be cautious not to stick your hand underneath to get your cat out, as you’ll likely be met with a hiss and a swipe.
  • Not eating: When you’re anxious do you feel like eating a big meal? Probably not. Cats are no different. If the anxiety is prolonged, then a change in weight may be noticed.

What can we do to avoid Covid-related anxiety in our pets?  
A whole book could be written on the topic but some simple tips for our cats and dogs include:

  • Keeping your routine as similar as possible to your “pre-Covid” routine
  • Leaving your dog for extended periods of time (leave him at home while you go for a walk or do the shopping)
  • Avoid having your dog on your lap all day while you work. Pop him in another room with an enrichment toy for a while. Space is not a bad thing for our pets.
  • Provide toys and enrichment for cats as a distraction
  • Put litter trays in a space that a cat would consider “safe”. If you only have one tray it might be time to invest in another to give your cat more options
  • Take your dog to day care regularly

In some cases, a behaviourist may be needed to assess the situation and provide more strategies. This option should be explored if anxiety has already set in for an extended period of time.

How have my pets fared during lockdown?
My two Abyssinian guinea pigs have thrived during lockdown. They love having my husband and I around more often and have become more outgoing and interactive as they continue to trust us more. Smaller pets such as guinea pigs, rabbits, mice, and hamsters are also sensitive to the daily routine. Being conscious of spending too much time with them and making an effort to leave them alone for varying periods throughout the day is beneficial. This should mean that the inevitable transition back to work will be more manageable.  

By Olivia Basham

OCA Mentor

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