Pets Life after lockdown – helping your pets adjust June 15 2020
Trudie McConnochie Trudie McConnochie Writer

Now that we’re preparing to head back to the workplace and see our friends and family more, our pets may need a little help with getting used to us being away from home.

A silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown has been the extra bonding time we’ve enjoyed with our pets. Chances are our cats and dogs haven’t minded it, either.

But as restrictions continue to be wound back, many of us will start to return to life as we (somewhat) knew it before. So, how will our cuddly companions cope?

Let’s not forget about our four-legged friends

Reassuringly, vet Dr Bill Harkin from Blackburn Animal Hospital in Victoria feels confident dogs and cats will handle the change relatively well.

“For most, it won’t worry them at all – they’re quite adaptable creatures,” he says. “The ones I’d be most concerned about are the more highly-strung animals on the verge of separation anxiety normally, who will be stressed by having less time with their owners.”

“Typical signs that a pet is distressed include destruction of property, whimpering, hyper salivating or panting, and excessive barking or crying”, he says.

Puppies and kittens that have been welcomed into the home during lockdown should adjust particularly well, given their understanding of the world is always changing in those first few months. But Dr Harkin suggests watching out for older animals, especially cats and dogs that were adopted from shelters, as they may need some extra support.

Keeping them healthy can help keep them happy

Most pets have been lucky enough to get more exercise than usual during lockdown – whether that’s been a second daily walk for dogs, or extra playtime for cats.
As we start spending more time away from the home, Dr Harkin recommends keeping up the regular physical activity in some shape or form as best we can – especially with older pets who might be developing arthritis.

“When I say exercise, it doesn’t have to be ‘going for a walk’. What we do inside and around the house can be just as effective – like encouraging our pets to walk or follow us around the house or backyard, for instance,” he says. “If they’re left to their own devices, they might go and sleep for eight hours without moving, and that will lead to a stiffening up of their joints – especially in the cold weather.”

Basil Theofanides, from Command Dog Training School in Melbourne, says the mental stimulation that comes with going for a walk is just as important for dogs as the physical stimulation.
“Allow them to run off-lead and sniff around,” he says. “If you can’t do that – because you can’t trust your dog, or you don’t have the right environment – hide their food all over the house so they’ve got to sniff it out. Or, you can get dog puzzles where you put food inside and the dog has to work out how to get the food out.”

Border collie weaving through obstacle course

Three tips for preparing your pet for post-lockdown

  • Start the adjustment early. “Particularly with animals who’ve come from a shelter background, you want to start getting them used to the fact that you’re going to leave and will come back,” says Dr Harkin.
  • Desensitise your dog. Triggers that can often stress out a dog are based on our daily routines, like the scent of make-up and the sound of car keys. So, try and desensitise your dog gradually over a 4-week period prior to returning to work. “The first stage might be you putting your make-up on, so do that then go and sit down in the living room,” Theofanides explains. “The next stage might be putting on the make-up and getting changed, then going and sitting down again,” he says.
  • Give dogs a chew toy or bone when you leave. “Any continuous chewing action releases serotonin, a calming agent for the dog,” says Theofanides.

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Trudie McConnochie Trudie McConnochie Writer Trudie McConnochie is a Sydney-based journalist who specialises in health, wellbeing and spirituality.

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