Because I am a human being living in the third-largest city in the United States, the coronavirus is on my mind. It’s scary, and we all are dealing with our newly realized pandemic anxiety in different ways. Turning to our pets for comfort is natural and nice, but with that also comes a possible increased focus on their every move and well-being.
Some of you have the luxury of being able to self-quarantine with your loved ones, and we all thank you. Some of us still need to be out in the real world saving people, and we all thank you too. This blog post, however, isn’t to inform you about anything related to COVID-19 and human health. For that you can look here. This blog is meant to address your animals’ health during this time.
I know that some of you are worried about your animals getting infected. Though we don’t know everything about this virus, veterinary experts say it is highly unlikely to infect or sicken pets.
What I want to discuss is the quality-of-life needs for your pets, particularly dogs, which depend on social interactions with other dogs and people to relieve boredom and anxiety. All the basic points are applicable to cats too, though the cats that go outside and meet people and other cats are rare.
We are all home (hopefully) now. As much as social interactions need to be at a minimum to help flatten the infectious curve, being outside is not unsafe. Walking your dog is not something you should avoid. In fact, strolling through the streets offers a great opportunity for quiet and reflection. What you need to be careful about, though, is stopping to talk to others and going to dog parks or places where humans congregate. Which in turn means that your dog’s social needs may go unmet.
So how can your dog’s and cat’s cabin fever be remedied?
- Attention. Because you are managing your two children who are home from CPS, trying to keep up on how many celebrities are positive, and Google-deep-diving whether coronavirus can be transmitted through ESP, you may not think that spending 10 minutes here and there playing tug-o-war with your dog is a priority. But don’t underestimate the stress dogs can pick up on. Even a small amount of attention can help them through this.
- Respect boundaries. Though most of your cats and dogs love having you around, it also the case that the sudden increase of bodies home at all times can be a stressor for your 18-year-old cat that is used to the quiet and freedom to sit on the couch alone during your work day and actually enjoy some alone time. I’ve heard from numerous people over recent weeks that they think that their dog and cat may not actually miss them as much as they assumed when they were at work every day. If your animals separate from your space to be alone, it may not mean something is wrong; you just may be annoying. Let them be and make sure there are places for them to retreat to without the clatter of your new bread-making hobby and experimentation with rave-reggae dominating your shared environment.
- Toys. Please don’t run to the store and get a bunch of toys right now, but make the existing toys in your house nice and clean and available. Make toys out of your old clothes or use a discarded water bottle, toilet paper rolls (especially you hoarders), etc. If you Google DIY dog toys, you’ll see a lot of ideas. But be careful you don’t use anything toxic or things that your dogs can swallow. I like this page: https://www.wisebread.com/10-diy-dog-toys-you-can-make-for-pennies
- Train/Teach your dog new tricks. Don’t give up on your sometimes jerk of a dog who stubbornly will not generally or ever listen to you. Don’t as it’s literally and figuratively never too late to try to teach your old dog new tricks. Maybe this is the time you spend teaching her to sit, shake, solve geometry puzzles, speak Turkish, etc. There are tons of trainers who are helping to do things remotely. I plan to have my dog braiding my hair by the summer.
- Go outside. Go outside. Go outside. It may seem contrary to our brains’ frenetic power to actually go in our yard (if you have one) and sit down, but leave your house, walk outside, even though you may need to cross the street to avoid people. You can check Twitter on your front steps with your dog as well as in your living room.
- Divide and comfort. Not all households with multiple animals live in harmony. We have an upstairs cat and downstairs cat. Both are annoyed at the upstairs and downstairs dog. Maybe your herd is split up in different ways. Just like playing tug-o-war with your dogs for 10 minutes could go a long way in fulfilling her needs, try to spend some alone time with each of your animals for a bit. Go upstairs and have a 10-minute pet-fest with your shy cat that hates your power hungry younger cat that generally hogs all the attention.
We all hope this passes soon, though that seems doubtful right now. Read books, play farm hustle, calm yourself, distance. Goodbye.
—Brett Grossman, DVM