Tips to Help Your Pet Cope with This Pandemic in a Healthy Way
By Arden Moore – The Pet Health and Safety Coach™
During this pandemic, has your always-up-for-adventure dog become a not-budge-off-the-couch homebody? Or is your dog showing signs of cabin fever, canine style, by racing to the door whenever he hears another package delivery? Has your indoor cat become super clingy or is he hiding more since you and your family have spent most of this year 24-7 together under one roof?
Since March, our loyal pets have done their best to adjust and adapt to this new normal of having us home all the time. Like us, they may miss social outings with people and favorite four-leggers outside the home. As this pandemic continues in the fall, it can take a physical and emotional toll on the health of our pets as some may be developing signs of separation anxiety, stress or other issues.
I’ve seen behavioral changes in my pets. Before COVID-19, Kona, my friendly terrier mix, and Casey, my outgoing orange tabby, traveled with me a lot to conduct in-person, veterinarian-approved pet first aid classes, give pet behavior talks, attend pet conferences and make visits to schools, animal shelters and memory care centers as certified therapy pets. Both love interacting with people in new places. Both love road trips – yes, even my cat.
Kona usually sits happily on cue to be greeted by visitors. But it had been four months since we had anyone in our home. When my sister, Deb came for a brief visit, Kona acted like she had won the doggy lottery. As soon as she spotted her favorite “aunt” walk up our front porch steps with a mask on, Kona did rapid circles and squealed loudly with delight. She nearly tackled Deb when she walked in the door.
On our neighborhood walks, Kona used to wag and politely smile as other leashed dogs passed by. Now, she barks in a high-pitch and pulls on her leash to desperately reach the other dog to sniff and say hi. I feel bad when I wave and smile to the dog’s person as we both keep apart and moving.
Cats tend to be more subtle in conveying emotional changes. But now Casey, my usually calm and confident cat, has become super affectionate and catnaps on my lap or near me. He follows me like a furry shadow day and night. He talks to me a lot more, too.
Signs Your Pet May be Stressed or Anxious
It is important to know what’s normal in your pet – behavioral as well as eating and sleeping habits. Signs that your pet may be stressed or anxious may include:
- Changes in eating habits – suddenly eating rapidly or eating a little and walking away from the bowl
- Producing loose stools due to stomach upsets
- Chewing on paws
- Vocalizing more and louder
- Ear scratching
- Destroying items with your scent on them, such as bed pillows and sneakers
- Acting up and ignoring learned training cues, such as sit or come
- Becoming very clingy to you
What You Can Do
And, if you are now getting ready to head back to the job site after months of working at home or planning a week-long getaway, feelings of home-alone can swell up inside your pet, who may wonder or panic why you are suddenly not home all the time.
“Now is the time to prepare your pet for what is coming,” says Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVN, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist who operates the Florida Veterinary Behavior Services in West Palm Beach, FL. she says. “For our dogs and cats, that is about independence and enrichment. We want to make sure that they have things to do which do not involve the pet parent so that they are not completely reliant on the pet parent for happiness.”
Dr. Radosta is one of the world’s leading proponents of Fear Free Pets, a movement created by leading veterinarians to help people and pet professionals reduce fear, anxiety and stress in their pets. She is also the co-author of the best-selling book, From Fearful to Fear Free.
Whether you are staying at home with your pets or preparing to go to work or on a vacation, Dr. Radosta offers 27 tips in her free e-book called, Stuck at Home with a Bored Dog. The complete list is available by clicking HERE, but here are few tips that can help your dog feel happy and secure:
- Begin placing your dog in his crate or carrier or in a closed spare room for about 15 to 60 minutes a day with a favorite stuffed food toy.
- Take your dog on new routes at different times so he can experience new sights, sounds and smells.
- Work your dog’s brain by having him search for his kibble or treats in a snuffle mat. He needs to tap his strong sense of smell to search and find the food goodies. You can buy a snuffle mat or make your own by visiting this site.
For cats, resist the temptation to allow them to nap on your lap or snooze on your home desk for long durations.
“Get to shopping online for toys that will occupy your cat,” suggests Dr. Radosta. “Catit makes some great toys. Save the boxes and packing material for your kitty. These can provide them with hours of fun.”
Another tip is to soothe your pet’s ears with relaxing music. Studies show that dogs and cats prefer specific relaxing music, such as reggae, soft rock or classical.
You can also hire a professional pet sitter who is licensed, bonded and insured to take your dog on walks. Be sure to have the sitter make a home visit before you head back to the job site or take a long vacation so your pets can get used to this person.
Being Our Pet’s Health Ally
Bottom line: all of us, pets included, are doing their best to adjust and adapt to this new normal. Our loyal pets need us now more than ever to be their best health allies by recognizing early signs of stress and anxiety and addressing them before they escalate.
If stress has triggered your dog to nibble on his paws or skin, work with your veterinarian on a suitable solution. A proven remedy among veterinarians to help address inflamed or itchy paws and coat is ZYMOX® Topical Spray. It is formulated with combination of protein and enzymes plus skin-soothing aloe vera. For itchy or irritated ear issues, consider ZYMOX Enzymatic Ear Solution. Both ZYMOX products are safe for use on dogs and cats.
Arden Moore wears many collars in the pet world. She is a best-selling author, master certified pet first aid/CPR instructor, pet behavior consultant, host of the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio and happy pet parent to a Furry Brady Bunch in Dallas. Learn more at www.ardenmoore.com.