Care for Yourself So You Can Care for Your Pet
Like many of you, I never expected to experience the pandemic we are currently facing. Social distancing, quarantine, virtual gatherings, and isolation have become part of our daily lives due to COVID-19.
Adjusting to this new normal has been challenging for many people. Pets can often sense an owner’s stress and anxiety, which in turn the pets can absorb. Signs of stress in pets can be very subtle, and these behaviors can mimic pets’ normal behavior, so identifying stress can be difficult for owners.
Indicators of stress in dogs include pacing and shaking, whining and barking, trembling, changes in eyes and ears, shedding, panting, changes in bodily functions, hiding, and acting more withdrawn. While cats can exhibit the signs above, they also commonly overgroom (which can lead to sores on the skin) and fail to use the litter box. Cats in particular, are prone to developing urinary symptoms when they are stressed, so it is important that owners keep a close eye on their cat’s litter box habits. It is clear that our mental health impacts our pets, which is one more reason to be mindful of self-care.
In honor of Mental Health Month, here are some strategies to help deal with COVID-related stress:
- Separate what is in your control from what is not. Focus on the things you can do, such as washing your hands, drinking water, and limiting your news consumption (including social media).
- Get outside in nature; fresh air and exercise is beneficial for not only mental health but physical health.
- Challenge yourself to stay in the present. When you find yourself worrying about something that hasn’t happened, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. Try to focus on the positive things happening in your life.
- Stay connected to the people in your life. Reach out to trusted friends and family members when you need support.
- Use meditation and relaxation exercises to promote a sense of calm.
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep.
Enjoy Time with Pets
While many people have transitioned to working from home, pets are enjoying the extra time they get to spend with their owners. You can still enjoy the outdoors with your pets in a safe way by finding quieter and less populated areas. The time outdoors and exercise helps reduce stress and anxiety and is also an opportunity for your dog to have fun and burn off some of their energy.
For your cats, you can find new ways to play with them at home. There are many different types of cat toys available (online shopping is a great way to find some exciting new toys), or you can find some items around the house for the cat to play with. It’s incredible how something as simple as a cotton ball or piece of paper can keep them entertained for hours. This is also a good way to bond with your cat, which is beneficial for mental health.
By taking care of yourself, you will be better able to care for others, including your pets. Although these are uncertain times, we’re in this together!
—Amber Slaughter, DVM