Helping your pet adjust to the new normal

Helping your pet adjust to the new normal

by Michelle Thum
Public Health Command Europe

PULASKI BARRACKS, Germany -- COVID-19 has had an impact on the daily lives of service members and their families by forcing many to spend more time at home and adjust to a new normal. Guess who has four paws and will not complain? (Okay… maybe some cats out there.)

While our pets may not understand what is going on outside the walls of their home, they do notice the way this pandemic has affected them directly (i.e. more time with their owners).  However, as many people are returning to the workplace, some pet owners are already starting to see changes in their pet’s behavior or increased anxiety levels.

To assist pet owners, veterinarians from Public Health Command Europe put together some recommendations and tips to help you and your pet adjust to this new normal.

“Whether you’re still largely working from home, or you’re back to your old routine/new normal, it is important to start now to help your pet cope with the transition,” said Maj. Desireé Broach, a veterinary behaviorist at Veterinary Medical Center Europe. “As best as possible, try to maintain a predictable routine and structure for them, even if your own routine was disrupted. That includes feeding times, play time, walks, and yes, even scheduled alone time.”

According to veterinarians, it is important to reintroduce alone time for your pet, but to keep it short and gradual. Just as with humans, it is healthy for pets to be able to be independent and be okay with being alone. It’s a sign of behavioral maturity in puppies when they start to stray from the litter (and mom) and explore on their own.

“Starting with short and frequent absences and gradually increasing that time interval will help your pet adjust slowly so that he/she doesn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that you leaving equals ‘gone forever’ every time,” explained Capt. Peony Kim, a veterinarian with the Stuttgart Army Veterinary Treatment Facility.

Kim suggests that when coming home to your pet it’s best to “ditch the fanfare” and keep it quiet by lowering the pitch of your voice. Instead of responding to over-exuberant behavior on your return such as, whining or jumping, you should reward your pet for calm and quiet behavior.

Another recommendation offered by veterinarians is to keep your pet entertained while it’s home alone. This can be done by using fun toys, or if your pet could care less for toys, maybe treats (in moderation) will help keep them  preoccupied.

“My dog doesn’t even realize that I’ve left the house when I give him frozen peanut butter in a Kong,” said a client at VMCE.  “He only gets the treat  when he’s home alone and he'll forgets everything around him because he’s so excited.”

Pet experts suggests that if your pet scarfs down its food in a matter of seconds, you should invest in a device/puzzle that will make your pet work for  food so that feeding time is also play time and can be engaging and mentally stimulating.

Broach says that if pet owners are experiencing frustration, they should reach out to their veterinarian for assistance. There may be something else going on outside of anxiety that is causing the unwanted behavior.

“Maybe you need to discuss a more tailored plan with a behavior specialist specific to your pet’s issues and within the confines of certain limitations or home situations,” said Broach. “Again, no dog or cat is the same, and no home environment is the same. “But whatever you do, do not punish your pet,” Broach added. “Realize that the unwanted behavior is stemming from emotional distress and punishment could further exacerbate the anxiety causing damage to the human-animal bond.

For more information, follow “Public Health Command Europe” on Facebook.

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