As the majority of Americans spend most of our days confined to their home, it is increasingly likely we will notice some changes in our pets’ behavior. Whether perceived or real, it begs a legitimate question, “Is my pet having a problem, or am I just noticing small normal behavior variances? Or even worse am I getting on my pets’ nerves by staring at them all day?”
These are legitimate questions which can have different answers depending on the underlying cause of the changes noted. For the most part, pets are creatures that (like the rest of us) generally do better with a routine. When that routine is disrupted, problems can arise. Those problems may be minor such as getting up earlier than normal, or wanting to eat dinner in the afternoon. Or they can be more troublesome such as urinary and fecal accidents in the house. Although any of these issues can be due to a medical issue, it is also quite possible this is due to a disruption in routine. When signs like this are noted the first things to look for are other clinical signs that this may be a medical problem. Is your pet losing weight? Drinking more? Vomiting or having diarrhea? Are they lethargic or suddenly ravenously hungry? Or perhaps they’re hardly eating, or seem to get fatigued just going for a short walk? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then there may be a medical issue. Luckily your veterinarian is considered an essential service in most states, and is likely open and ready to help. But if the answer to all those questions is no, it may be a problem related to routine and there are ways to address this.
When addressing changes in routine it should be noted that generally speaking pets are very adaptable to changes in routine, as long as those changes can become somewhat consistent for a period of time. If you are working from home and your schedule is flexible, consider maintaining a schedule as close to your previous schedule as possible. Get up at the same time. Feed your pet, take them out, take a shower and even dress at a similar time (and in the same clothes you would normally wear). Psychologically this may help you focus on work, but it will definitely help your pet. Pets are very sensory creatures. The sound of the shower, the scent of your work clothes, the amount of sunlight in the kitchen at breakfast all can affect your pets’ behavior and daily rhythm. A normal daily rhythm can mean normal digestion, drinking and eliminations thereby possibly eliminating urine and stool accidents. And when you are working, work. Go into a specific room, just like going into your car to drive to work. Keep interactions with your pet a bit more minimal during work hours and they will adapt to this new rhythm.
Pets can also very easily sense stress. It’s possible your stress could get projected into a state of hyper concern for your pet, or just inadvertently create anxiety in your pet. This can result in urine and fecal accidents, or even destructive behavior as your pets do not know how to process this new stress. Much like advice given to any caregiver, the solution may start with self-care. Make sure you do anything that will lower your stress first. Go for a run without your dog if that is easier, and don’t feel guilty about leaving them behind if that allows you to clear your head. You will be a better caregiver when you are not stressed, and your pet will be happier for this. Meditate, have a Zoom cocktail party, or make yourself a nice meal. Anything that lessens your stress will help. After you have cared for yourself, then turn attention to your pet. There is nothing wrong with taking advantage of this time to go for extra walks, or have added playtime, or even snuggle time. But try to make these at regular intervals focusing more on morning and evening with maybe only one break mid-day when you would normally be at work. This not only sets a schedule but allows pets to adapt to the changes when you return to work. Finally consider gentle petting/massage, diffusing lavender, or playing soft music to help soothe you and your pets.
If it seems difficult to decide if your pet is having a minor issue, or a serious medical/behavioral issue, contact your veterinarian. They may be able to offer advice and counseling by telemedicine options. And if a visit is needed, most veterinarians have well-established protocols (guided by the AVMA and state medical associations) which allow them to see and treat animals while maintaining social distances and keep you (and themselves) safe.
-Nicholas Albano, DVM, CVA, CCRT