Your pet is a creature of habit. As you have your daily routine, your pet has a routine, although it may consist of napping on your bed all day, with intermittent bouts of barking at the mailman. If COVID-19 has changed your daily schedule, your pet’s life has also been affected. Since you are working from home and homeschooling your kids, your pet loves having you around and is no longer lonely, right? Maybe. Pets thrive on routine and predictability, and any change—good or bad—can cause stress and anxiety. Although your dog may enjoy extra walks and time with you, she may be feeling anxious, and she doesn’t understand why.
So, how can you intentionally decrease your pet’s stress during quarantine? Although pets don’t do yoga or meditate, you can make your home a pet refuge, so your pet is more relaxed. Follow these five tips to provide a calm environment that will keep the peace in your home.
#1: Create a pet-only home zone
If your pet is used to having the house to herself all day, suddenly sharing her domain may cramp her style because, especially if you have young children, she may have relished her daily alone time while you were at school and work. Cats and older dogs, in particular, may appreciate down time without constant attention, and the increased activity, noise, and general chaos may have your normally calm pet feeling anxious.
Although vacating your home for several hours each day to give your pet her space may not be practical, you can create an area where your pet feels calm. Put your pet’s bed, favorite toys, and a special treat, such as a peanut-butter-filled Kong, in a quiet room away from the hubbub, so your pet can enjoy some alone time each day. If you have small children, consider gating off a room, so your pet can be near your family, without little hands reaching for her tail, or your toddler falling on her.
#2: Give your cat a perch
Cats are masters at internalizing stress, only for it to manifest later as medical problems. A number of medical issues, from urinary stones to chronic gastrointestinal (GI) problems, have been linked to feline stress. Unfortunately, identifying a cat’s stress source can be difficult, so make your home as cat-friendly as possible to avoid possible triggers, especially in the wake of recent schedule changes. Ways to make your home a cat haven include:
- Providing an elevated perch, where your cat can safely monitor household activity
- Placing a cozy bed in a safe, out-of-the-way spot
- Providing a litter box for each cat in your household, plus one additional box
- Placing litter boxes in quiet, safe locations, where your cat will not be disturbed
- Locating food and water in quiet, safe locations, where your cat can eat without disturbance
#3: Exercise with your pet
Although you may be tempted to quarantine on the couch, catching up on your favorite TV series, this is the perfect time to start an exercise routine with your pet. Exercising increases endorphin release, improves your mood, increases energy, and helps you sleep better—and your pet likely will enjoy similar stress-relieving benefits. If you are working from home, break for a lunchtime walk, for you and your pet to enjoy the fresh air. Over the weekend, hike through isolated, off-the-beaten-path locations, where you can explore new terrain, while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
Your cat may not enjoy hiking, but she can definitely benefit from indoor exercise. To get your cat up and moving, encourage her inner predator by pulling a feather on a string, pointing a laser over the floor, or zooming a motorized mouse around the room.
#4: Provide mental enrichment
Exercising your pet’s mind can be as important as providing physical activity and keeping your pet’s brain busy is a great way to relieve underlying stress. Your dog will love playing new brain games, such as:
- Searching for kibble hidden around the house, instead of eating her dinner from a food bowl
- Finding food hidden in a snuffle mat
- Learning new tricks
- Mastering a home-made agility course
- Finding treats hidden in a muffin tin, under tennis balls
- Solving a food puzzle
Cats also can get in on the game with enrichment activities, such as:
- Finding treats hidden in a toilet paper roll filled with newspaper
- Scratching on an indoor scratching post
- Watching birds from a window perch
- Finding pieces of kibble hidden in your home
#5: Take care of yourself, as well as your pet
With the present situation’s uncertainty, trying to work from home while navigating home schooling, and worrying about your family’s health, your stress is likely at an all-time high. Pets are highly in-tune with their owners’ mental health, and your pet probably senses your anxiety, which makes her uneasy. Practice stress-relieving activities to help keep your entire family calm, such as:
- Daily walks
- Listening to music
- Playing family games
- Spending time with your pet
Before long, life will be back to normal, and your pet will have your empty house back to herself. In the meantime, monitor your pet for stress signs, and try to minimize your new schedule’s impact on her health. If you think your pet may have stress-related health problems, contact your family veterinarian for advice.