Owners urged to keep an eye on pets’ mental health
MANY pets across Central Queensland have enjoyed being by their owner’s side every day in isolation.
However, with people returning to normal routines as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease, CQUniversity Veterinary Nursing teacher Courtney Liddy says there are concerns these animals could develop negative behaviours from this transition.
Ms Liddy, who works to manage animals physical and psychological health concerns as a Veterinary Nurse at a Gladstone clinic, said with lots of families working and schooling from home in isolation, they may have been spending more time with their pets.
“The pet thinks this is fantastic and the new normal,” she said.
“Some of us have been home for months which is plenty of time for animals to believe this is their new routine.
“Suddenly, everyone in the house goes back to work and school and the animal goes from having their family around to having nothing very quickly - less attention and fewer walks.
“This is quite stressful for an animal as they do not understand why.”
She explained this sense of abandonment could be a trigger for many animals and could lead to separation anxiety and heightened stress reactions in a variety of species.
“Dogs are typically the animal we associate with separation anxiety, but we also see it in hand-raised birds who are particularly attached to their person or mate,” she said.
“These birds will often spend a lot of time out of the cage with the owners in the house.
“Some cats who are quite attached to one particular owner may also exhibit separation anxiety,” she said.
“In dogs we typically see behaviours such as barking or howling, digging, inappropriate urination or defecation, chewing or destructive behaviour, inappetence and escaping.
“For cats, you may see increased vocalization, depression, hiding, inappropriate urination or defecation and blocked bladders, which are all caused by stress.
“And in birds, you may see increased vocalization and feather plucking.”
She said animals that were adopted or purchased during COVID-19 restrictions were more susceptible to developing separation anxiety as they are not accustomed to being alone for eight to 10 hours a day.
She advised to take note of any unhealthy behaviours to implement early strategies and minimise the impact going back to work will have on pets.
“Start building healthy degrees of separation now,” she said.
“This may include putting them outside for a few hours during the day and not interacting with them but don’t leave them so long that they panic, gradually build the time frame. Start by leaving them half an hour and build on that so they gain confidence in being alone.”
She said other strategies could include providing them with toys and activities throughout the day to keep them stimulated.
“When the dog is left alone, provide enrichment for them that calmly keeps them occupied,” she said.
“My dogs love frozen treats. They play with the chunk of ice and as it melts the treats become available.”
Overall, she suggested creating a happy environment for the animal so they can be relaxed without a human presence to keep them company.
“Leave them somewhere they already associate with sleep,” she said.
“My dogs are crate trained, they go into their crates at night, this stops them from getting into mischief. If I am getting ready to leave, they will take themselves to their crates as they see this a relaxing safe area.
“Don’t rush them into the area you are going to leave them in – this just creates anxiety over that area as they are not being allowed time to think. Take your time to settle them.”