For many of our companion animals, having us at home during school holidays and the COVID-19 lockdowns has been a dream come true. Our companions have got used to having their favourite people being around all day to play, cuddle, and hang out with. But what happens when you go back to school and your family goes back to work?
Suddenly spending more time alone and all the big changes to their daily routines can be confusing and stressful for our companion animals.
Below is a list of tips for how you can keep your companion animals happy during lockdowns and help them cope when you suddenly return back to school:
The pandemic has had a big impact on our lives, as well as the lives of our companion animals. Like us, animals can find unpredictability and drastic changes to their regular routines stressful. However, keeping to daily routine can help reduce this stress.
This includes a regular schedule for:
Many family dogs have been on more walks than ever before which is wonderful, however it is also important to make sure our companion animals get some alone time.
You can do this by:
Some animals, especially rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, rats and birds, are happiest when they live with a compatible companion of their own kind – someone they can communicate in their own language with, play and do things that they can only do with a member of their own species.
You can help your companion animal by adopting another friend for them to spend their days with!
When leaving your companion animals alone, we recommend giving them a safe, special treat to keep them occupied. This will also help them learn that being on their own isn’t a negative thing, but rather a time of the day that is exciting!
You can hide treats for them to find (be sure to start easy at first to keep them motivated), use a puzzle feeder, make a ‘pupsicle’, give them a safe toy to cuddle or chew. Read more about the importance of enrichment here.
Before leaving your companion alone, schedule some exercise or play activities to burn off their excess energy.
When you do leave, make sure your hellos and goodbyes are boring. Thought it can be hard to resist a dramatic entrance when you come home and see how excited your cat or dog is – it’s important to keep greetings calm and quiet to help teach your animal that coming and going is nothing to get excited (or anxious!) about.
All companion animal guardians (owners) should provide a safe place for their animal to retreat where they won’t be disturbed. This can be a crate or bed in another room for a dog, and a hideout for cats and small animals. Providing cat furniture, such as shelves, cat trees and hiding spots, will also help your cats feel safe.
Soothing music (think classical not heavy metal!) or audiobooks have been found to reduce barking and increase lying time in dogs and may help to mask scary noises.
Exercise is important for the health and wellbeing of your animal. It includes activities that require physical effort and it improves their health and fitness. For you, that may mean going for a run or playing a sport, for dogs, that would mean a long walk or a game of fetch.
Enrichment is an important part of keeping your animals happy and healthy. Enrichment is about designing and creating interesting environments, and providing toys and activities that create a more stimulating life for an animal. It’s all about providing rewarding challenges, choices, opportunities to learn, and mental stimulation. Without enrichment, animals can get bored and depressed. Imagine if you had no books to read, games to play, or shows to watch. You’d get pretty bored too!
Remember, enrichment shouldn’t be provided as a replacement for exercise – it’s best to provide your animal with a good mix of both!
If you follow the above steps, most companions will take these changes in their stride. However, there will be some animals which find the transition more difficult and you may notice signs of stress as they adjust to their new routine.
These signs can include:
If you notice any of these signs, have an adult in your household contact a veterinarian for advice right away!
It can be disheartening to come home to find your house a mess but never punish your companion for destruction or inappropriate toileting that you discover when you get home. Because these behaviours are anxiety based, punishing your companion will only make them more anxious and the behaviour worse.