Pets During Lockdown
Lockdown has been an unusual and variable experience for all of us. The corona-coaster means that different days bring different challenges, boredom, loneliness, exasperation, a huge range of emotions. While we’ve been lucky enough to have relatively few cases down here, the changes that have affected us have also impacted our pets. Depending on their species and character, our pets may have been affected by our daily routine exploding, more time in the house, less exercise, limited access to health care, boredom and exhaustion. As these changes will affect our own pets in different ways, we should be aware of the possible impact of changes and ensure our pets are as comfortable as possible.
Having the family or an individual owner home all the time is a new chapter in a pet’s life. For small furry pets who need to sleep during the day, home schooling, childrens TV, fighting, playing, cooking and shouting around them constantly could lead to exhaustion. A stressed small pet such a hamster, mouse, rat, guinea pig or rabbit may become aggressive or become ill with exhaustion. Just as a home schooling parent needs a break (!), small pets need a quiet area for part of the day so that they can catch up on their sleep. Cats also need a sanctuary, a quiet place for escape where no one is pulling their tail. For indoor cats, the litter trays may need to be moved to a more private spot, or covered if they are shy of using it around noise. Dogs also need some rest every day, even though most of them love being in the centre of the action. Some animals, particularly aged pets, may need their food, rest, walk or play routine to be consistent or they become confused.
Having pets that demand attention when you are home is a home schooling/home working nightmare. This usually applies to the dog or cat in the family. Lying on laptops, constantly demanding cuddles or walks, doing zoomies around the house during a zoom call may reflect how excited they are to have you home. Having periods of time when your pet is in a different room will facilitate the return to normal life, if they have periods of time alone and enable you to have a peaceful meeting.
You can also train a dog or cat to leave you alone when working. Treats and praise when they sit quietly can encourage them to see work time as quiet time. Time alone is important though. For some pets who have joined the family in lockdown, returning to normal will be a great shock. It is worth building in time where they are alone before that happens. This does not need to be boring, there are many toys that distribute treats or food that can be used to alleviate boredom. Scattering their food around a room or garden can help. Toys, a radio or TV left on can provide distraction and company. Leave them for infrequent food shops, sometimes go out for exercise alone and give them time to get used to their own company.
We all appreciate the tendency to have more treats in lockdown, for us and our pets. In some lockdown situations, such as isolation and illness, exercise may be restricted for our pets. These two situations can lead to weight gain and boredom, so if your pet is having a lot of treats you may need to look at their overall calorie intake. Perhaps use their usual food as treats, or encourage activity by distributing or hiding food in their enclosures or the house. It is important not to replace their diet with treats as they need a balanced diet.
Playing can use up energy when walks are not available and training can give them an opportunity for mental and physical stimulation. Lockdown puppies will also have missed training classes, so consider one to one classes or training at home to ensure that when we can walk more widely they have an adequate recall and you have the ability to control them in difficult situations.
There has been no solid evidence for active Covid-19 infection in pets, or evidence that they spread it. However, if an infected person was to stroke your pet when they were out of the house they could act as an infected surface. Hands should be washed after stroking outdoor cats and dogs who have been handled by others on walks. Social distancing means that interactions with other people’s dogs are limited, but if you use a dog walker or a friend walks your dog, be aware. Dog walking has changed in lockdown as we all avoid being in close contact with others. Some dogs may become confused by a lack of socialisation and see approaching dogs as a threat. This is a difficult situation especially for lockdown puppies, but positive reinforcement with treats and praise can reduce their emotional response to seeing other dogs and people.
Government advice to reduce the spread of infection has led to vets only seeing emergencies. As this changes practices can offer more routine health care. Parasite treatments such a flea, tick and worm treatments may have been difficult to access but the parasites don’t respect lockdown. We will do all that is possible to provide you with the care your pet needs.
We may also have had to delay booster vaccinations for a short time. It is important to check if your pet is protected and contact us for details. As conditions such as dental disease, mobility problems and minor health conditions can cause discomfort, it is worth having a health check as soon as guidelines allow. Some owners may be having difficulty as routine neutering was suspended in lockdown. Sometimes unneutered dogs can be aggressive with each other and there may be danger of unwanted offspring with unneutered pets, so separate them as and when required and contact the practice to arrange an appointment when possible. We have remained open as ever for emergency care, and new services are being reopened all the time – so don’t hesitate to contact the practice with any concerns.