Why Our Pets Have Become Super Needy During the Pandemic
A woman wearing a protective mask carries a pet dog while walking in Shanghai, China. (Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

Why Our Pets Have Become Super Needy During the Pandemic

A few weeks ago we published a story about how you should prepare your dog for your possible return to the office. Many, many people read it (we’ll assume it wasn’t the dogs), so we figured we’d do a follow-up to answer another question on pet owners’ minds: Why is my animal acting out these days? “It’s important to remember that your pet isn’t giving you a hard time—she’s having a hard time,” says dog trainer Pat Miller, owner of Peaceable Paws in Fairplay, Md. Here are some other pet problems likely butting their noses into your day, and what you can do about them:

Problem No. 1: Your pet is overstimulated.

“Owners never leave,” Miller says. “The dog isn’t given any downtime. Their routine, for years, was to relax and hang out a lot.” Overstimulation can be particularly acute if children are involved. And not only with dogs—cats suffer, too. “They’re like, ‘How come you’re invading my space all day? You’re supposed to be gone.’”

Signs of trouble: You say, “Come here,” and your pet scoots away. Following your pet “can lead to aggression,” Miller says. A dog or cat walking away is a polite request for space; growling and hissing are their way of saying, “I’m uncomfortable, and I don’t want to bite you.”

Solution: Don’t interfere with your pets’ downtime routines and environment. “If your cat is telling you, ‘I don’t want this much intimacy,’ respect that,” Miller says.

Problem No. 2: You’re working on your house.

Redesigns and upgrades are keeping some of us occupied this summer. “Most dogs and cats rarely leave the home, so your environment is their whole world,” says veterinarian Dani McVety, co-founder of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice, which operates in 34 states. “Pets are very used to furniture placement. Major changes can be quite stressful, particularly for older pets,” especially those with visual impairments.

Signs of trouble: Your pet is bumping into furniture, is anxious, or cannot find a place to hang out.

Solution: Pay attention to their favorite spots, such as where they sunbathe and sleep—and do your best to leave them be.

Problem No. 3: You’re overfeeding your pet.

You’ve been giving your best friend 20 treats a day plus leftovers from three daily meals and two snacks since March.

Signs of trouble: Weight gain. It’s bad news for dogs and cats; few overweight pets make it to old age, McVety says.

Solution: Use cuddles and enrichment activities such as training—not food—as your love language. Break treats into quarters. If your pet was lean before the pandemic, return to that eating and exercise routine.

Problem No. 4: Your dog keeps interrupting you.

“Dogs are lacking enrichment in their environment,” says Kait Hembree, head behaviorist at GoodPup, which has trained more than 23,000 dogs online. Without owners who leave and come back, life is predictable, and the lack of nuance breeds boredom.

Signs of trouble. “We’re seeing increases in attention-seeking and biting behaviors,” Hembree says. Dogs and cats may whine and bark or jump and gnaw on you while you’re trying to work, and you reward your buddy with attention.

Solution: Get your pet a life beyond you. Establish a space where a dog can hang out (a room or crate), and stock it with food and toys—and then go elsewhere in your home for short periods of time. “The goal is to have the dog comfortable and engaged,” Hembree says. For cats, try toys, and turn feeding time into a hunt by putting three pieces of kibble in one corner and two pieces in another.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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