The COVID-19 pandemic has an impact on everyone’s everyday life, including pets. Many dogs and cats have gotten used to their owners being at home with them 24/7 for months, but now that people are returning to work or vacationing this summer, pets are suddenly experiencing a time without their owners.
As a result, dogs and cats are more likely than before to experience separation anxiety and exhibit stress-induced behaviors that can be traced back to their mental health. In the second part of our two-part report, read the advice of a local animal behavior expert and learn how you can help your pets when they are struggling with separation anxiety.
Robin AF Olson, President / Founder of Kitten Associates, Sandy Hook, is a cat behavioral consultant with years of experience caring for cats of all ages, needs and abilities.
She finds cats do best in predictable environments and can feel stressed when changes are made.
“When there’s a loss, when a family member dies, kids go to college, get divorced, or move homes, cats don’t tolerate it well. They love to keep a schedule and are most comfortable with being with constant family members, furry or not, ”explained Olson.
The pandemic has been a big change for many cats to have their owners home more often, and now they’re seeing more changes with people leaving their homes and going back on vacation.
To understand if a cat really has separation anxiety, it is important to first assess whether the cat is sick for other reasons.
“Parents of cats need to be very clear about what the cat’s basic normal behavior is before they travel or return to work, now that people are starting to return to their office and be more away from home,” stressed Olson. “This will help them understand that anything that aches your cat after returning to work may be related to separation anxiety.”
Signs of separation anxiety include problems with the litter box, such as urinating / feces outside the litter box or even soiling of bed linen or clothes; Be overly clingy when the owner is at home and vocalize (meow) more.
Since this can also be an indication of an underlying disease, pet owners should consult a veterinarian to rule out other reasons for this behavior.
If separation anxiety has been determined to be the cause of these acts, Olson recommends enriching the home environment to best manage a cat’s stress and keep them busy.
One way to do this is to add vertical spaces for climbing and exploring, which can be achieved by adding shelves and huts that can be purchased or made yourself.
“Cats love to get up high where they are in control of their space,” says Olson.
It is also helpful to place a scratching post near the window that they can look out of and allow them to stimulate themselves mentally as they explore the scenery.
Additionally, Olson says, “You can grow cat grass, leave out food puzzle toys, and there are even webcams that you can use to talk to and monitor your pet while you are away.”
Incorporating these different enrichment strategies can improve a cat’s emotional state and keep them healthy.
When the time to physically leave home, Olson says you should try to be consistent with how and when you leave and return home.
“I wouldn’t make a big deal of walking, but I would definitely say hello to my cat (if she’s social and wants to), maybe spend some time brushing her, or definitely do 15 minutes of playtime with a wand toy,” she said. “I would watch out for large fluctuations in the schedule and make sure I take care of my pets and watch them for health / stress issues.”
While anxiety medication for cats is available through veterinarians, Olson emphasizes the importance of getting to the root of the problem.
“That said, if the stress is caused by inter-cat or cat / dog issues, you will need to get a feline behavioral therapist and then maybe medication – but they don’t always work and can take six weeks or more to happen,” she noted.
For short-term use, Olson said, people can try incorporating homeopathic flower essences to relieve the cat’s stress.
Ultimately, it’s important to look at the world from the cat’s perspective to understand what it is going through.
Olson stated, “Cats are not little people in cat suits. They do not seek revenge through inappropriate elimination; You are a cat. They show their owner that something is wrong. It is up to us to understand that and act on their behalf. “
She continued, “There are many great books on cat behavior by Pam Johnson Bennett and Jackson Galaxy. If you understand and respect your cat’s “cat”, not only will she have a better life, but you will also enjoy life with her more. “
If your pet needs a vet appointment, plan ahead; Olson says there has been an unprecedented surge in veterinary visits since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s not just a practice – all vets plan out weeks, and specialists usually wait over a month. I’ve never seen anything like it in 20 years of emergency services, ”said Olson. “That tells me that people pay a lot more attention to their pets because they’re so much more at home. The good news for cats is that they will be better cared for now that they are getting more attention. “
For more information about Kitten Associates and for advice from Olson, visit kittenassociates.org and email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at email@example.com.
Cats like Pistachio, a foster cat on the Kitten Associates rescue program, like to climb scratching posts to relieve stress, which can benefit cats with separation anxiety. —Dana Sharkey photo
Installing shelves or wall mounts can enrich the home environment for separation anxiety cats, like Cat Pistachio here in its MyZoo Spaceship Gamma Wall Mounted Cat Wall Shelf. —Robin AF Olson Photo