Life has changed for all of us as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Our schedules, work life, and social patterns have all shifted drastically as we’ve had to adapt to a new way of living. As we’ve learned to stay home more, we’ve retooled our own schedules and lifestyles to better support us during the pandemic. But we might not think about these changes have impacted one part of our households: our pets.
As our idea of normal has shifted, theirs has as well. Many of us are home a lot more, drastically changing what our pets’ day-to-day lives look like. As happy as they might be to have us home more than ever, pets are experiencing changes to their routines, activity, and eating schedules that might put their wellness at risk. As much as we want to promote healthy lifestyles for ourselves during lockdown, we need to put intentionality towards caring for our pets as well.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re quarantining with a pet.
1. Keep Them Stimulated
As we struggle to keep up with our lives during quarantine, the attention we spend on our pets might waver. It’s easy to become passive and forget to engage our animals in active play, but this is essential both for exercise and quality of life.
Jodie Havens, Training Expert for PetSmart, says that making sure your pet gets enough active play can ensure their wellness on many different fronts. “Exercise promotes overall physical and mental health, prevents boredom and destructive behavior, reduces stress, encourages bonding and offers many other benefits.”
She says games like hide and seek, tug of war, and playing catch with a ball are all great ways to provide physical and mental stimulation. “You could set up a fun obstacle course, teach them a few new, simple tricks using their dinner as a reward, or help control their impulses with a game like ‘Finish Line.'”
If you’ve been hiding your dog’s favorite squeaky toy while sheltering in place, many vendors sell an alternative that won’t disturb your work from home. Ultrasonic squeaky toys can keep your dog engaged without ruining your peace and quiet.
2. Keep Healthy Eating Patterns
As we limit our trips to the store, we often end up with bigger stockpiles of food than we are used to. While we’re storing two weeks of groceries at a time, it can be easy to give your pet bigger portions without thinking. However, keeping your pet’s eating schedule and portions consistent is important for their health. If you’re having a hard time controlling your pet’s eating, you can buy a slow-feeder to make sure they’re eating the right amount.
When you’re around your pets all day you might be tempted to give them treats often, but setting a limit or even saving treats for training purposes can ensure your pet doesn’t reach an unhealthy weight during quarantine. PetSmart’s Resident Veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Freeman says, “It’s easy to give treats to our pets — we use them to reward good behavior and demonstrate how much we love them. However, offering too many treats can pack on the pounds, which can lead to a myriad of health issues such as diabetes, cancer, arthritis and kidney dysfunction.”
Dr. Freeman also says that when it comes to treats, ingredients matter. “Aim for treats that contain real meat and offer added benefits like glucosamine for joint health.” This way, every treat can be a reward without compromising your pet’s health in the process.
3. Keep Up With Their Vet Appointments
As so much of our routine has been shaken up, remembering to schedule vet appointments might fall by the wayside. While so many businesses are still on lockdown, vet practices are considered essential and should be open to ensure your pet’s well taken care of. Many veterinarians offer a curbside service, where they take the dog inside by themselves while you wait outside. This can be a stressful prospect, so make sure you’re prepared beforehand.
Your animal’s shots and checkups might not seem urgent today, but paying attention now will save you from facing bigger issues with your pet’s health down the road.
4. Make Sure They Exercise
A walk around the neighborhood is one of the daily pleasures of life right now; it can double as a way to keep your pets healthy and stimulated. Dogs need regular walks as a part of their exercise routine, and a trip outside to explore the nearest park can help both you and your pet to feel less trapped.
If you have a cat, make sure you’re stocked up on toys to keep them occupied. Indoor cats are especially at risk for weight gain and understimulation; taking time to play with them while you’re on the phone or watching TV can keep them active, healthy and happy even while indoors.
5. Avoid Over-Bonding
Hollywood animal trainer William Berloni told Bloomberg that there’s some risk in letting dogs get used to our stay-at-home routines. He says that if dogs get too acclimated to us being at home all day, it can result in much more anxiety when our normal patterns pick up again and they get left at home. Berloni says dogs are becoming “overly bonded,” relying on their owners more and more in order to stay calm, and that they might be losing their ability to self-soothe when they find themselves left on their own.
Berloni advises creating a schedule that mimics your normal routine, including regular walks and the separation dogs would normally experience. He recommends putting your dog in a separate room (or in their crate) at least twice a day for an hour so they can become adjusted to your absence and learn how to cope. Leaving a lot of toys around so they can learn to occupy themselves helps as well.
Dr. Freeman says that if actions like picking up keys or putting on shoes stress your pet out, start doing these things when you’re not leaving the house to get them accustomed to those behaviors, and then start quietly leaving the house for short periods of time.
Dr. Freeman says it can also be helpful to establish a room or a crate as a “safe zone” for your dog. “Establish this as a safe area by giving lots of praise when they willingly enter it. You might also consider leaving some recently worn clothes out in the area so that it smells like you.” She says to practice leaving the safe zone for short periods, increasing the intervals over time. “You can give your dog a treat-dispensing toy that takes time to consume to keep them occupied.” All of this will help your dog more easily adapt to your entrances and exits without anxiety or stress.
6. Don’t Let It Get Too Quiet
Andrea Arden, owner of Andrea Arden Dog Training in New York, told Bloomberg that it’s easy for dogs to adjust to our new, quieter lifestyles with social distancing and shorter walks. This unfortunately means that their tolerance for noise gets lower, making it more likely that any sudden noise might set them off. Arden recommends taking your dog to an outdoor spot that’s a bit busier to help them get reacclimated to the bustle of average life, building up their resilience for noise and activity outside of your quiet home.
By keeping these things in mind, we can help to keep our pets happier and healthier even as we’re figuring out how to manage the transitions involved in staying at home.
If you’re looking into adopting during this season of social distancing, Your Dog Advisor’s list of questions to ask can help you know which dog will make the perfect addition to your household.