Integrative Pet Vet column: Pets have to cope with COVID-19 lifestyle changes |

Integrative Pet Vet column: Pets have to cope with COVID-19 lifestyle changes

Dr. Ron Carsten

Companion pets like routine. Our daily routines changed with the onset of COVID-19. Families were together more while they did work or school from home. This meant more contact time with pets, and in some situations, a tremendous change in routine. It has been a wonderful opportunity for interaction and mutual support between pet companions and people. All our changes in routine have given our pets a new daily pattern; a pattern that involves lots of human interaction time. Time with pets is known to have health benefits including reduction of stress and anxiety, improvements in immune function, and enhanced quality of life. Perhaps in recognition of these benefits, there has been an increase in pet adoptions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fall has always represented a time of transition as the season changes and teachers and students return to school. Pets have had to adapt and cope with these changes. This year has the added stress of even more significant changes in routine as many students resume school and families return to places of work as COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed. Since these changes represent such a large alteration in routine, there is an increased risk of anxiety issues in pets. It can be difficult for dogs to adapt to sudden changes, but cats can also be impacted.

Separation anxiety can be the result of these sudden alterations in routine. Pets with separation anxiety can panic and show harmful or destructive behaviors when not in contact or proximity to their owners. Signs of separation anxiety include destructive behaviors like chewing and digging, excessive panting, pacing, vocalizations, excessive grooming leading to self harm, changes in elimination behaviors, drooling and escapism. Keep in mind that there are health and training issues that can be part of an anxiety problem. These can sometimes be misinterpreted as separation anxiety. For example, an elderly pet with cognitive dysfunction or a pet experiencing discomfort from a joint problem can exhibit signs of anxiety.

Recognizing that our changing routines have an affect on our pet companions is important. It helps inform us about ways to assist our pets with the transition. One of the keys is to provide daily structure, especially during the transition. This can be done by establishing and sticking with a routine that involves quality interactions including daily walks, play time and feeding. Provide an opportunity for your pet to transition to a new work or school schedule if possible by having separate space for your pet for set times during the day. These are times that your pet can start to get used to not being in physical contact with you. Go easy, gradually increase the time, and avoid creating increased anxiety as your pet adjusts. Provide distractions like food puzzles, safe toys and “cat caves.” Consider a pet sitter or dog walker to help fill in the times when you are away.

Remember that sometimes anxiety issues can result from health problems. Therefore, it is vital to work with your veterinarian to make sure that there are no health problems contributing to the anxiety behaviors. If health problems are identified, they should be appropriately addressed. Then additional supportive approaches including Bach Flower remedies like the Rescue Remedy and nutraceutical products like Composure can be used to reduce anxiety. Pheromone products like Feliway for cats and Adaptil for dogs have also aided in the reduction of anxiety and are easy to use. Some herbs also have anti-anxiety benefits. Depending on the severity of the anxiety or behavior issue, the use of medications combined with interaction with a behavior specialist or trainer may be needed.

Dealing with the changes in our daily lives created by the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging. Our pet companions have shared and coped with these changes along with us. While they have been dealing with the stresses of a new routine, they have provided important emotional support and companionship for us.

If you have questions about the health of your pet or about ways to help make the transition into a new daily routine, contact your veterinarian.

Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. He is also the founder of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE). In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.

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