Stay at Home Hard on Pets

Our pets may be used to being home 24/7 but one thing is certain — they aren’t used to us being around every day as we have been for the better part of ten weeks. And they certainly aren’t used to the constant state of activity, disruption of routine, and stress that now surrounds them on a daily basis.

Pets thrive on routine and consistency and they aren’t equipped to process sudden change. The dramatic disruption of their daily normal causes them to feel anxious. What was once a quiet home for most of the day is buzzing with noise, continuous movement, and the heightened emotions of their people.

Additionally, studies show that pets are extremely in tune with their owner’s emotions. When our stress levels are amplified, especially over a long period of time, our furry family members may exhibit signs of anxiety.

Typically, when feeling overwhelmed with stress, dogs will turn toward their owner’s while cats, being more independent, turn away. Though each individual pet may exhibit their anxiousness differently, there are typical behaviors of which to be aware.

Stressed dogs may:

  • Have a decreased appetite
  • Appear lethargic
  • Have digestive issues
  • Be exceptionally clingy/needy: be underfoot, want to be pet
  • Have accidents in the house
  • Lick their legs (not feet, which is a signal of allergies)
  • Bark excessively/become more territorial/aggressive
  • Spin, drool, lick their lips or shake/shiver

Stressed cats may:

  • Go to the bathroom outside of their litter box
  • Hide or become reclusive
  • Eat less
  • Vocalize more

All of these behaviors are ways that our pets are trying to tell us they are stressed. If not understood, they add to our frustration and result in tension between us and our cat or dog.

If your animals appear to be overly anxious, here are tips that can both reduce and manage your pet’s signs of stress.

Patience: Your dog or cat is not trying to be spiteful or disobedient. Their actions are the only ways in which they know how to communicate that they are worried and upset. Stay calm when accidents happen, when your dog incessantly pesters you, or when your cat refuses to come out from beneath the bed. When your pet behaves, reinforce that action with attention and the occasional treat.

Routine: Consistency and structure are important with helping our pets know what to expect. Establish set meal and play times as well as times for walking your dog. Keep them on a consistent diet and avoid extra treats or table scraps as this can aggravate digestive issues.

Exercise & Engage: Exercise benefits both owner and pet. Schedule sets times daily to walk your dog or play with your cat. To circumvent neediness, avoid creating situations that cause attention-seeking behaviors by giving your pet the love and attention they need in advance such as walking your dog or playing with your cat before your workday begins. Grooming or brushing your animal -even cats- is a soothing routine and can help you and your pet connect.

Space: Our pets are used to a lot of time alone. Dogs and cats both require boundaries and a quiet place where they can rest undisturbed. If they don’t already have one, create a favorite place for each pet where they can go and be left alone. This could be a window ledge, crate, or pet bed. It is also important to ensure young children can’t easily get to your pet when they are in their resting place. Stressed animals can often bark, growl, scratch, or nip if disturbed.

Plan for Your Return to “Normal”: When the Shelter in Place order ends, some of us may continue to work from home but others will return to work and school. This will once again disrupt your pet’s routine so it’s wise to begin easing them into these changes. Begin by taking time away from your pets each day. Go for a walk or bike ride, take a drive, or run necessary errands and leave your pets at home. This will remind them that when you leave, you will return.

If your pet continues to exhibit anxiety despite your attempts to reduce it, or if they suddenly seem to be acting unusual, call your vet as animals can also internalize their stress, causing physical issues that need veterinary attention. Your vet may also prescribe anti-anxiety medication. The use of pheromone diffusers in your home can also help calm pets as can our managing of our own personal stress level.

Hopefully, this time of working and schooling from home has given us humans a level of understanding an empathy of how our pets feel when they are inside all day. Patience, exercise, engagement, attention, and routine can help your furry family members manage their aversion to change and minimize their anxiety.

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