Dogs and cats (and people) are creatures of habit that crave routine. As a result, going into lockdown has been a stressful experience for many pets, and we’ve noticed this in the calls and emails we’ve had from clients. Not surprisingly, we seem to have had a surge of stress-related cystitis in cats. It’s also why there seem to be more posters of missing cats around.
Similarly, coming out of lockdown is going to be another abrupt change. To add to this, the stress of an altered routine and the confusion that this brings to pets is going to be compounded for many by some separation anxiety. Moreover, social stimulation from people within the house can be a very useful distraction for pets that have generalised anxiety disorders, and this is soon going to be taken away. We expect to see a sharp increase in the number of calls about inappropriate marking, urination, and defaecation; destructive behaviour; barking; hyperexcitability; and inter-dog and inter-cat aggression within the home.
To manage this, owners should start “preparing” their pets for what this new routine is going to look like. They should identify a few key points in the day (eg. feeding, exercise, play) and make sure these are occurring at times and in ways that are going to be sustainable when lockdown ends and owners return to work. If owners become aware that they will be returning to work, or that their household’s dynamic is going to be changing significantly, they should start slowly transitioning to this way of life at least a few weeks ahead of time if possible. They should also be prepared for the possible need for medication to help this process along.
As far as the specifics of managing separation anxiety when it occurs, there are a lot of great resources on Sophia Yin’s website: https://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/separation-anxiety-canine-style/
For socialisation of puppies, this is trickier. There are a whole lot of experiences that puppies are not going to be prepared for when they come out of lockdown, mainly to do with being in busy places and meeting new people and dogs. Some behaviourists recommend playing recordings of things like traffic noise around the house, but they’re obviously not going to replicate things all that well . Owners should take it very easy when taking their puppies out for the first time, limiting initial walks to short distances in quiet environments, rather than flooding puppies with a huge number of stimuli all at once. We should prepare owners for the fact that first interactions with other dogs and people are likely to be very stressful events, and if the emotional experience of the dog is negative it can have lasting effects on their ability to interact appropriately and confidently with other dogs in the future.”