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What effect will lockdown have on pets?

by | Feb 25, 2022

Vets warn of post Coronavirus Lockdown pet anxiety – A Guide to help your pet adjust to life after COVID-19 lockdown

As we gradually return to a resemblance of ‘normal’ life, our pets are also going to have to contend with the new norm of us not being around the house so much anymore.  This is going to be a change for them and some of them may not cope as well as we would hope.
As we all know, a lot of people have struggled greatly with loneliness over this difficult period of time and pets have played a vital role in keeping their morale high and keeping them company. However, charities such as RSPCA and PDSA have both voiced concerns that anxiety in pets could be greatly exacerbated when normal life resumes. The BSAVA have also reported that there has been a significant rise in pets displaying uncharacteristic behaviours such as howling and chewing pieces of furniture when left alone for differing periods of time.
Leaving our pets alone whilst we return to work is also something that we, as pet owners, worry about. There have been surveys carried out by various insurance companies revealing that pet owners have feelings of guilt when leaving their pets at home and worry how pets are going to cope when left alone for long periods of time.
“Dogs are social creatures and are at their happiest when with their owners. When separated from the owner that they are attached to, they display a range of behaviours that signify they are in distress,”
advises Clare Bradley, RVN and Pet Behaviour Counsellor at Vet’s Klinic.
“These range of behaviours can develop and increase in seriousness; common signs are destructive behaviour such as escape attempts resulting in self injury, chewing and destroying furniture, various types of vocalisations, (howling and barking) and inappropriate urination or defecation in the house”.
According to Clare, “Separation anxiety type behaviours occur when the pet does not have the appropriate coping strategies in place to know how to react and behave when separated from their owner”.

“Dogs are not destroying the furniture to disobey or punish the owner for being left, it is actually an involuntary action resulting from their inability to contain their huge emotional feelings of panic and distress”.

“These dogs have feelings of anxiousness and are scared to be left alone as they have never been taught, or may have forgotten, how to be left alone. It is not normal for them”.
How will lockdown affect our pets?

The Dogs Trust have also spoken out on this matter and are particularly concerned about how dogs will cope. They are trying to highlight how dogs’ lives have changed through lockdown with owners being with them all the time, less interactions with other dogs, and fewer visitors to the house. This has therefore become their “normal” and the end of lockdown will mean a dramatic change to many dogs’ way of life.

They will need some time to adjust and for puppies, who have missed out on the early life experiences they would usually encounter when out and about, it will be particularly confusing.  Dogs Trust has concerns about how dogs will cope when left alone and the long-term impact this may have on their wellbeing.

The good news is that there are ways to help your dog through these changes. At Vet’s Klinic, we advise pet parents to follow the tips put together by Clare Bradley, our Pet Behaviour Counsellor. These small steps can help your dog to gradually come to terms with their new way of life, how to cope with being on their own, and combat their initial anxieties:

Helping your dog to understand how to be happy alone

Installing a child/stair gate or closing the door to allow your dog to be left alone in one part of the house for varying lengths of time throughout the day whilst you go about your business in another part. This helps them to get used to being alone. It is recommended to leave them with a chew toy or stuffed Kong to keep them busy, relaxed and enjoy their time whilst they are on their own.

To start with, keep within ear shot of your dog and gradually increase the time that they are left alone over the coming days so that they are happy with you being completely out of sight. Most dogs will allow this and be completely relaxed however for some this may be distressing. If this is the case, take a few steps back in the process and allow them to feel comfortable before proceeding again.

Clare Bradley explains “by slowly increasing the time separated from you, interacting with them at play times, exercising and having quiet times on their own, you are preparing them for life post lockdown when things return to a more normal way of life”.

“It is important to take them for a long walk before they are left alone to ensure they are more tired and thus will settle easier when left. It is also advisable to use the general rule to not leave a dog unattended for more than 4 hours at a time.”

1. Create a safe area for them

It can be comforting for dogs to have an area in which they can relax and rest. This area could be a crate, an area under the stairs or anywhere they feel most comfortable. Try to encourage them to use it even when you are at home. This area can have comforting smells and pieces of clothing or items that relate to the owner such as an old towel or t-shirt that smells of them. Calming products such as herbal and pheromone sprays or plug in diffusers used in the room may also help the dog to relax.

2. Activities to do when left alone

It is important that dogs have something ‘safe’ to play with whilst they are waiting for you to return home. This helps to prevent anxiety and relieves boredom. Having indestructible chew toys, destructible cardboard boxes and interactive toys will keep them busy whilst you are gone.

Keeping your pet occupied when left alone

3. Building a Routine into the day

It is important to get into some sort of routine as pets can find it incredibly reassuring. They feel more at ease knowing what is going to happen next. You should plan to go to bed and get up in the morning at the same time each day and stick to consistent times for feeding and walks to build some routine into their life.

4. Leaving and returning home

When leaving and returning home, it is vital that we do not make a fuss of our pets. It can feel strange not giving them any attention but it does allow them to settle quicker once you are gone. If you can, try to ignore your dog for the first few minutes when you return and if they are excitable then wait until they become calmer. This may be quite difficult to begin with but once they have settled, you can ask them to sit and reward the sitting behaviour by making calm fuss of them.

5. Travelling again with dogs

We have got used to ‘staying local’ and thus have not needed our cars much at all. However, as we start to go further afield again, perhaps on holidays, it is a good idea to get dogs used to travelling in the car again. Start with small journeys to gauge their response and gradually increase them as long as they are not reacting and are happy.

6. Seeking professional help if needed

Separation anxiety issues are distressing for the dog and upsetting for you, as the owner. The sooner that you can start implementing these simple measures into your daily lives, the better the outcome will be.

However, if none of these hints and tips are helping, it may be time to think about seeking specialist help from a Companion Animal Behaviour Counsellor. Ask your local veterinary practice if they have an in-house specialist or can recommend a local counsellor.

About the Author:

Clare Bradley RVN

Clare Bradley RVN has been a Registered Veterinary Nurse for over 14 years and is now working part time after her return from maternity leave. Clare has a Master’s Degree in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling and she has a particular interest in cat behaviour.

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