Going Mutts! How Pets Have Fared During the COVID-19 Lockdown
Quarantine has been tough on all of us humans, but what about our fuzzy, four-legged counterparts? Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, animals have experienced a major change in their lifestyle, both for the good and the bad. Animal shelters have seen a surge in adoptions and are struggling to keep up with the demand. Dogs who have previously gone on just one walk a day are now consistently getting a healthier amount of exercise, with three or four walks a day, and pets are boosting their owners’ mental health by providing companionship during these isolating times. On the other hand, there are pets that have started exhibiting displacement behaviors and separation anxiety. Some animals aren’t adapting well to having no personal space, and human stress levels can negatively impact our pets. The COVID-19 pandemic has had both negative and positive effects on pets.
If you have a pet, you understand how quarantine has had just as much of an effect on them as it has had on you. My dog loves having the whole family home all the time because of the COVID-19 precautions. He gets double the amount of walks he’d get under normal circumstances, and has more people to play with or just sit next to. A problem I’ve personally begun to notice, however, is that as family members are beginning to leave the house with the ease of quarantine restrictions, my dog has started to show signs of separation anxiety. And it's not just him. All pets who have been getting undivided attention from their owners these past few months are now facing the prospect of going back to sitting alone in an apartment or house all day. Dog trainers Marjie Alonso and Tracy Krulik, along with many other animal behaviorists, say to slowly prepare your pets every day for when you have to leave so that they won’t exhibit the destructive behaviors that follow separation anxiety, such as ruining furniture and harming themselves. According to Care First Animal Hospital, you should set aside time alone for your pets while you’re home, and give them mentally stimulating toys which they can use on their own. You can also give them treats whenever you leave, or desensitize them to the sound of keys jingling by doing it all the time. This way, when you actually do have to leave your home, your pet will be calm, and maybe even excited, anticipating a treat.
But what about pets with antisocial personalities that actually enjoy being alone? For many of them, quarantine has been difficult. It can be very stressful on pets if, overnight, they go from having the whole house to themselves, to having no personal space at all. According to M. Leanne Lilly, a professor in behavioral medicine, many pets are finding the disruption in their routine stressful. In these cases, the pets can develop displacement behaviors. These are behaviors that, like humans, pets develop in stressful or uncomfortable situations. Instead of chewing their fingernails or playing with their hair, however, pets will scratch furniture, yawn often, or itch themselves. “We need to make sure that we’re not stressing out our pets by spending all of our time with them just because we're home all the time as well,” explained Lilly.
Another reason pets may be exhibiting displacement behaviors is because of their owners’ stress. According to Sundman et al., in the article “Long-Term Stress Levels Are Synchronized In Dogs And Their Owners,” dogs were found to mirror their owner’s stress. So if you have been stressed about COVID-19 and quarantining, your dog will feel stressed too, and begin to develop the previously mentioned displacement behaviors.
However, if you manage to keep calm and avoid stressing your pet, studies have shown that pets can actually boost human well-being. Evan Maclean, a biological anthropologist and director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center, says that dogs may provide the “same kind of social support...we get from our human friends and family, who can help us to weather the storm.” For this reason, there has been a surge of people buying and adopting pets during the pandemic. According to the Washington Post, some shelters are seeing double the adoption rates on any given day, and lower return rates. Animal breeders are flooded with messages from prospective buyers, with some having waiting lists all the way into the next year. No one can keep up with the sudden demand for pets, and it's become almost impossible for prospective pet owners to adopt from a shelter due to the large number of applications they receive a day.
Although rescuing so many animals from shelters seems like a great result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the question of what will happen after quarantine arises. For people who have full-time jobs to return to, or for people who just haven’t properly considered the long-term expenses of having a pet, they may find that their impulse purchase or adoption is too cumbersome. This can lead to higher abandonment rates or mistreatment of pets, and the situation may be worse for those animals. If you’re thinking about adopting or buying a pet during quarantine, make sure it isn’t an impulse buy. Do your research and consider the long-run challenges and responsibilities of owning a pet, not just how it makes you feel now.
Overall, quarantine has been just as disruptive for pets as it has been for humans, both in positive and negative ways. However, if you stay calm and help your pet in whichever way is best for them, you will both feel better and quarantine will become that much more bearable.
Photo Caption: Dog leaning on computer, staring at user.
Photo Credit: Pixabay