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Life for pets can be ‘ruff’ as we head back to work
Published:07 July 2020
CQUniversity Veterinary Nursing Teacher Courtney Liddy.
Many pets have loved being by their owner's side every day in isolation, however as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease and people return to ‘normal’ routines these animals could develop negative behaviours as a result of this transition.
That’s according to CQUniversity Veterinary Nursing Teacher Courtney Liddy who works to manage animals physical and psychological health concerns as a Veterinary Nurse at a Gladstone clinic.
“With lots of families working and schooling from home in isolation, they may have been letting their dogs inside more and spending more time with their pets.
“The pet thinks this is fantastic and think it is the new normal. Since some of us have been home for months this is plenty of time for animals to believe this is their new routine,” Ms Liddy said.
“Suddenly, everyone in the house goes back to work and school and the animal goes from having their family around to having nothing very quickly - less attention and fewer walks.
“This is quite stressful for an animal as they do not understand why.”
This sense of abandonment can be a trigger for many animals. Ms Liddy explained it can lead to separation anxiety and heightened stress reactions in a variety of animal species.
“Dogs are typically the animal we associate with separation anxiety but we also see it in hand-raised birds who are particularly attached to their ‘person’ or ‘mate’. These birds will often spend a lot of time out of the cage with the owners in the house.
“Some cats who are quite attached to one particular owner may also exhibit separation anxiety,” she said.
“In dogs we typically see behaviours such as barking/howling, digging, inappropriate urination/defecation, chewing/destructive behaviour, inappetence and escaping.
“For cats, you may see increased vocalization, depression, hiding, inappropriate urination/defecation and blocked bladders – all caused by stress.
“And in birds, you may see increased vocalization and feather plucking.”
Animals that were adopted or purchased during COVID-19 restrictions are more susceptible to developing separation anxiety as they are not accustomed to being alone for 8-10 hours a day but Ms Liddy advised to take note of any unhealthy behaviours to implement early strategies and minimise the impact going back to work will have on our pets.
“Start building healthy degrees of separation now! This may include putting them outside for a few hours during the day and not interacting with them but don’t leave them so long that they panic, gradually build the time frame. Start by leaving them half an hour and build on that so they gain confidence in being alone.”
Other strategies could include providing them with toys and activities throughout the day to keep them stimulated.
“When the dog is left alone, provide enrichment for them that calmly keeps them occupied. My dogs love frozen treats (treats frozen in water in an ice cream container). They play with the chunk of ice and as it melts the treats become available. “
Overall, she suggested creating a happy environment for the animal so that they can be relaxed without a human presence to keep them company.
“Leave them somewhere they already associate with sleep. My dogs are crate trained, they go into their crates at night and this stops them from getting into mischief. If I am getting ready to leave, they will take themselves to their crates as they see this a relaxing safe area.
“Don’t rush them into the area you are going to leave them in – this just creates anxiety over that area as they are not being allowed time to think. Take your time to settle them.”