We have all begun to adjust to a new normal in light of Covid-19. It has affected our daily lives and routines in more ways than one, whether that be in terms of working from, home, having reduced hours or only being able to go out for essential shopping and exercise. Whilst many of us have adapted to this change over the last few months, our beloved pets may be struggling with the everchanging adjustments that are inevitable during these strange times.

Many pets will have enjoyed having their owners around more and it has been suggested that our furry friends have helped to ease loneliness and anxiety in their owners during lockdown. Pets will have only recently become accustomed to this “new” routine, however, with the altering of lockdown rules and the acclimatisation of businesses, it is likely that many owners will have yet another routine change anticipated imminently.

We must remember that all pets are individuals, and will react differently to the situations presented to them. It is important to take note of our own pets’ behaviours and needs. Whilst dogs are considered an obligate social species, who are well adapted to living in groups. Cats, on the other hand are a species that prefer to live alone and have remained fairly independent and solitary, whilst co-existing with their human owners. You may therefore have recognised that whilst your canine friends are happy for the additional contact time during the day, your feline companions may not be as happy to have you around.

As owners what can we do to support our pets during these extraordinary times?

One of the most important things to recognise is that our pets need to be given the opportunity to have some solo time and space away from the family. Cats and dogs in particular require a large amount of sleep as depicted in the diagram to the right. When owners and families were out at work, school, socialising or exercising pre- Covid this allowed pets adequate opportunities to get undisturbed rest, however, in lockdown it can be difficult for pets to distance themselves from the increased proximity of the hustle and bustle of family life.

It is important to allow pets to take themselves away and into a quieter part of the house, providing lots of hiding spaces for animals such as cats and rabbits can be extremely beneficial. It is also recommended to move the cages of smaller pets such as hamsters, that are primarily nocturnal into a quite space, away from main household walkways.

Whilst It can be tempting to sneak a cuddle with any pet whilst they look so peaceful, the best thing to do is to allow them to remain calm and settled in their space. The above can be difficult particularly if you have children in the household. Many pets will not appreciate the constant attention and interaction that can come with this, be sure to set clear boundaries and expectations of not only your pets but also your children and any other visitors as lockdown restrictions begin to ease.

In regard to setting expectations for your pets it is helpful to keep your routine as constant and comparable to pre-Covid as possible. Keeping feeding times and exercise regimes as regular as possible can help dogs in particular, feel in routine. Ensuring that your pets get enough exercise has positive impacts on both their physical and mental health. Exercise play and mental stimulation can help to reduce restlessness and behaviours considered undesirable such as chewing and barking. A few great techniques to help mentally stimulate your pets include;

  • Scatter feeding – This requires the use of your pets’ nose. You can use this technique with cats and dogs alike. Select the food that you are going to scatter and take this out of their daily food ration. Scatter the chosen food in your garden or your house. To increase the difficulty put some food at slight height or underneath a toy for them to sniff out.
  • Puzzle feeders/ toys/ kongs – These can be a great way to keep your dog entertained and using some of their instinctual problem-solving abilities.
  • Exploration – Simply allowing your dog to sniff and explore a bit more on walks on or off lead can provide sensory enrichment.
  • Obedience and Training – Teaching your dog a new trick is great mental stimulation and increase your dog’s focus.
  • This can be particularly beneficial for those working from home. Once your dog has associated their bed/ your working environment with positive re-enforcement, they will associate you working with down time.

A few of these activities require a food incentive or reward as discussed in our April blog (Obesity in Pets) we have to be careful about overfeeding and giving excessive amounts of treats. It is therefore recommended that you take any treats out of your pet’s daily food allowance, for more information on pet obesity and its prevention see out April blog!

Above is several things that can help your pet whilst you are at home, however, it is imperative that we begin to set up and prepare our pets for our potential return to work and increased activities. Dr Chris Muldoon said that separation anxiety could become an issue when owners return to work. Gradual and maintained ‘preparation can avoid unnecessary distress.’ (Karla Dunne, Dogs Trust Ireland). The transition will not only be difficult for the pet themselves but also the owner.

Separation anxiety is triggered by the removal of something in a dog’s life that is considered a constant, more often than not this is a human. It is important to monitor our pets for signs of separation anxiety. The most common signs are;

  • Destructive behaviour
  • Vocalisation
  • Toileting in the house

To help prevent this there are a few relatively simple actions that can help prepare your dog;

  • When going out to shop, exercise (other than dog walks) or socialise leave your pet at home alone
  • Spend some time in separate rooms from your dog
  • Encourage your dog to rest in their own bed
  • Provide them with self-reinforcing activities, such as chew toys, puzzle feeders or Kongs that can occupy them whilst you are away.

If you are ever concerned or worried about your pet’s behaviour or potential behaviour contact a registered behaviourist or your local veterinary centre. Both of these professionals will always be happy to help and discuss concerns.

There is much to consider when thinking of bringing a new pet into the family under normal circumstances, however, if you are thinking of buying a new pet during lockdown, please take into consideration the above alongside additional puppy and kitten specific concerns during lockdown. For dogs in particular it is important that you consider your current circumstance whilst also envisaging your lifestyle post lockdown easing. Assess whether in both situations you will be able to adequately maintain the commitment that is required to keep and care for a dog and maintain remarkable welfare.

If you are contemplating adding a new furry friend to your family ensure that you do exhaustive research and planning, including the potential difficulties of raising a young animal during a pandemic. The RSPCA, ISPCA and several animal charities and professional bodies have written articles regarding the possible obstacles that may be faced by owners.

Note;
Registered behaviourist can be found at among other places;
The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (ABTC)
Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourists