Both dogs and cats will benefit from the extra attention
By Dr. Jeanne Haggerty-Arcay
The unprecedented COVID-19 crisis comes with both medical and economic uncertainty. Many are suffering high levels of stress as they worry about their future, try to work from home, navigate shopping in the “new normal” and try to become their children’s at-home teachers.
Studies have demonstrated that stress in humans is sensed by pets and these pets, in turn, can start to exhibit signs of stress. Stress in cats and dogs can look very different and can vary greatly from one individual to the next.
Stressed dogs are often outwardly anxious, but may also be depressed/lethargic, have a decreased appetite, have diarrhea/vomiting, be clingy, start licking parts of their legs (not to be confused with feet licking which is usually a sign of allergies), have accidents in the house or become reclusive.
In contrast, stressed cats most often urinate and/or defecate outside of the box but can also hide out, act depressed and have a decreased appetite. Here are a few tips to help reduce and manage stress in your pets.
Engage: Take some time away from your busy schedule to actively engage with your pet. Both dogs and cats will benefit from the extra attention … and you will likely also reap the benefits.
Exercise: Set aside time each day to get your dog out of the house. Adequate exercise has been shown to reduce stress levels in both humans and animals. Choose routes that allow you and your pet to maintain social distancing. Current evidence now suggests that both dogs and cats can contract COVID-19 from infected humans. Very recent evidence suggests cats can transmit it to other cats. There is no current evidence that infected pets can infect a human. But there is still a lot that we do not know about this disease. So the recommendation is to social distance our pets. Exercise your pet to their fitness level. If your pet is only used to short walks, do not go on a long run. Keep in mind the weather. Overweight, out of shape and short-nosed dogs are much more susceptible to heat stroke. Exercise early in the morning or in the evening hours. Cats can be exercised using cat toys or by having them chase a laser.
Litter Boxes: Cats maintain very high standards of cleanliness for their boxes. Keep the litter box pristine and make sure it is large enough for your cat. If you have multiple cats, try to have more than one box available.
Feeding: Maintain a consistent feeding program during this time. Since many people are home, it is tempting to feed many treats, new treats, table scraps and experiment with new diets. Unlike humans who often thrive on a varied diet, dogs and cats do best on a consistent diet and feeding program. Sudden changes in the diet often contribute to gastrointestinal upset, manifested as loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or lethargy.
Pets are very in-tuned with their owners and often take on their emotions. If you are unsure if your pet is sick or simply stressed, contact your veterinarian. Get out, get exercise, social distance and stay healthy.
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