Written by Dr Fiona Patterson - Veterinary Education Manager and Pet Lover at Mars Petcare Australia
For lots of pets around Australia, life of late has been pretty sweet. Quite suddenly, they found their beloved humans have been home way more than usual.
Pet rescue organisations have experienced a spike in adoptions during COVID-19 as people take advantage of their extra time at home to welcome a new pet into the family. Social restrictions have presented the opportunity for us to provide extra care, attention and training.
As someone who works from home a lot normally, my dog Kelly is used to a fair bit of companionship. However, for the past couple of months, he’s also had his other favourite humans with him all the time too. While Kelly doesn’t know about coronavirus and pandemics, he does know that life is particularly enjoyable right now. Extra walks and extra cuddles equal one very happy dog. He also probably doesn’t think things are going to change – but they will.
With different states starting to ease restrictions, it’s time to think about how you will prepare your furry family members for a return to ‘normality’.
Your pet might be of the adaptable sort, and not be bothered by changes to their routine. However, separation anxiety and isolation distress can affect some pets – both dogs as well as cats. Separation anxiety occurs when a pet becomes distressed by being separated from their preferred human caregiver. Signs of distress may start to appear when the pet picks up on cues that their guardian is leaving, such as putting on a jacket or grabbing their keys. Isolation distress occurs when a pet can’t tolerate being left alone. However, in this circumstance, the presence of any human tends to bring comfort. The presence of another pet may or may not help.
With some planning and training, you can help prepare your pet to be away from you and feel more at peace with their own company.
Here are my tips for helping prepare your pet for life post-COVID 19:
When you decide which strategies would be helpful for your individual pet and situation, don’t delay in starting to implement them. Take advantage of the time you still have at home so that your pet can make the transition to their usual routine as smoothly as possible.
Ensure your pet gets regular 'me-time'
It’s important that all pets have a safe and quiet refuge when they feel the need to take some time out. A cosy bed or crate works well for dogs, and lots of cats appreciate a resting spot somewhere high up such as on a cat tower.
Have your pet’s bed located away from you and other family members. Remember to make this an appealing place for your pet to be by offering toys and treats. Encourage them to use this space for regular chilled out time alone.
Help them make their own fun!
Keep your pet occupied and enjoying their own company with a range of toys. Boredom busters such as a sustained-release food toy like a Kong or Buster Cube stuffed with kibble and peanut butter can provide hours of entertainment. Have a range of toys – but remember to rotate them regularly to maintain the novelty factor. You can also hide kibble around the house or garden and let your pet seek out the tasty treasure.
Get active before work
Heading out for a walk provides a pet with much need physical, as well as mental stimulation. It’s great for us too! Set your alarm and have your runners handy to make it as easy as possible to get moving. Challenge yourself with a daily or weekly step target or create a family target and have some fun with it! A well-exercised pooch will be more likely to rest and relax when you’re not around. Try and head out for a second exercise session after work if you can.
Leave home, without a fuss
Leave your home without taking your pet. Head out for short periods and then gradually extend the time you’re away. When leaving, it’s important not to make lots of fuss saying goodbye; it’s better to simply leave as if nothing is happening. On returning, it can help to ignore your pet for a few minutes so they are not rewarded for any over-excitable behaviour.
Consider enlisting the help of a dog walker or doggy day-care centre who can keep your dog entertained while you’re away. If you think these services might be helpful, it’s a good idea to start using them well before you officially return to work. That way you can slowly transition your dog with some time to settle in without the added stress of juggling other commitments.
Hopefully these tips will help your pets ease seamlessly back into their usual routine.