For those of you with pets, you have probably experienced some changes in your relationship with your pet(s). The stay-at-home working and physical distancing means that many of us are cut off from friends and family, but certain relationships have become more intimate — those between people and their pets. Personally, we love seeing the cats on the couches in the background of many of the news reporters.
It’s a common belief that dogs thrive on their owner’s constant presence, while cats can find their owner’s presence an annoyance at times and want their time alone. In an April 17, 2020 Wall Street Journal column “The Cat” argues for the side of reopening while “The Dog” lobbies for continued closures.
Penn Today, recently interviewed Dr. Carlo Siracusa, a top expert in veterinary behavior, who shared his insights into how quarantines may have affected animal behavior and how to prepare our pets for more time apart:
What kind of pet behavioral issues have cropped up due to the pandemic?
Pets are generally good at adjusting to their owner’s routines. What was happening while their owners were away much of the day was that dogs and cats tended to use spaces that became their “territory”. The couch in the living room may have been the cat’s safe space, where he could also look outside the window to see what was happening. Now, with the pandemic, the owner stays at home and works from the couch, and the cat can experience some increased anxiety. Their space has been taken away from them. Alternatively, especially with dogs, it could be reversed, that they were suffering while the owner was away all day. Now the owner is around and the dog is like “Finally, you are never going to leave me alone again”. When the owner goes back to work, it might cause the dog to have separation anxiety.
What are some signs to look for that indicate your pet needs some space or time apart?
One of the first signs is a change in level of activity, in either direction. Some animals become restless and nervously pace around. Or, and this happens more often with cats, animals can decrease their activity. They may be “thinking” I can’t go anywhere without bumping into someone so I’m going to jump on the kitchen cabinet and stay there all day. Another sign is a change in vocalization. Cats become more vocal at night or dogs bark more frequently. Your pet’s body language may also change, with your dog yawning or licking its lips. These are signs of nervousness. Cats, when you touch them may become stiff. That is a sign she’s not interested in that interaction. New aggressive behavior may start. Just because we humans often get distressed with interactions with our pets, the opposite could be true for them.
What to do when you go back to work?
Try to make the change gradual if you can. You don’t want to go from 7 days at home to 5 days in a row away if you can help it. Start to take longer periods of absence during the day. Don’t walk your dog during times of the day when you would not normally be at home. Most pets will adjust just fine, but if you are concerned, consider getting a camera at home that can stream to your phone or computer so you can look in at what is happening to your pet when you aren’t at home. And believe or not, there is now telehealth for pets!
Like Owner, Like Pet
Lastly, many of us may be experiencing similar symptoms of stress as our pets and — if that’s the case — remember Michelle Obama’s confession that she too can feel depressed, and seek out professional help.