Are your pets tired of having you at home? Maybe. Here’s how to help keep them happy with unexpected togetherness
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
A popular meme shows a scowling gray cat and the words, “Get a human, they said. Hardly ever at home, they said.” And then there’s the one of a dog on top of the kitchen cabinets, with the words, “No. We’ve already been on 20 walks today.”
Are our pets ready for us to get back to our normal routines, or are shelter-in-place orders a dream come true for them? As with everything, it depends on individual animals and how much their normal routine has changed. My own dogs likely haven’t noticed any difference -- except for the lack of their weekly nosework classes and trips to dog-friendly restaurants -- but other animals may be wondering why their people are disturbing their daily naptime.
“I had a client tell me that since she’s been working from home, every time she jumps on a conference call, her dog gets up and leaves the room,” says San Francisco SPCA behavior specialist Wailani Sung, DVM. “He goes and finds a quiet spot in the rest of the house because she’s disturbing him.”
Dr. Sung’s own dogs are following her around because it’s unusual for her to be at home during the day. Some pets may find the new togetherness stressful, while others simply roll with the interesting new routine. Cats leap on keyboards to “help,” and dogs barge in on Zoom meetings or nudge the hand moving the mouse.
Other animals may yearn for the good old days when they had the house to themselves for a specific part of the day. Pets who live in condos or apartments with thin walls may startle at unexpected noises made by neighbors who are now home during the day, too. Dogs used to one or two walks daily at specific times might not be on board with the same walk three, four or five times a day. After a while, sniffing the same route multiple times a day might get a little boring.
You can introduce new odors for your dog to sniff. Sung suggests that clients go online and purchase unusual scents such as coyote urine, boar bait or deer musk.
“Randomly sprinkle them on your walks,” she says. “Your dog is like, ‘What is this new thing I haven’t smelled before?’ New synapses are firing, and that helps with mental enrichment.”
Change it up. Take the opportunity to explore different streets that you don’t normally take. Walk around the block in the reverse direction. My dogs and I have been going to a park that’s just far enough off the beaten path that it was unusual for us to go there.
At the same time, it’s smart to keep pets on a schedule similar to what they’re used to. Doing so will help them adjust when you eventually resume your normal work schedule. Take some walks without them so they remember it’s normal for you to come and go.
One of the many reasons we love our dogs, cats and other pets is because they are stress relievers, but it’s important to recognize that their own stress levels are affected by this major change in their routine and their expectations of certain levels of interactions from us.
“We need to respect what they think is enough,” says behavior specialist Debbie Horwitz, DVM. “Not every dog and not every cat wants to be right by your side, wants to be smooshed and hugged and played with continuously.”
Take the time to really study and learn to read their facial expressions and body language. You’ll get the message loud and clear whether they’re really eager for that fifth walk or ninth play session with the feather toy -- or if they’d rather just relax on the sofa with you and binge-watch “Planet Earth.”
“I think we have to realize that how to meet their needs may be different than how we want to meet their needs,” Dr. Horwitz says.
cause for concern
Q: My 17-year-old indoor cat is eating less than she used to, and she doesn’t come downstairs as often. Is this just a normal part of aging for cats?
A: Your cat isn’t just a senior; she’s in the geriatric stage of life. Cats at this age -- and younger -- are likely experiencing chronic kidney disease, diagnosed in nearly a third of cats 15 years and older. Cats with CKD tend to lose their appetite and are often dehydrated. Cats this age also typically have arthritis. That can make it painful for them to walk around, jump up, or go up and down the stairs.
Your cat needs a veterinary exam and blood work to see if she is actually experiencing CKD, arthritis or some other common disease of aging cats. If she has CKD, your veterinarian will recommend a special diet to help manage the disease and may recommend giving intravenous fluids. You can learn to give fluids at home; most cats accept it well when they’re handled appropriately and rewarded when fluids are administered.
One way to encourage your cat to eat is to gently warm her food. Cats may have a reduced sense of smell as they age, and warming food enhances the aroma and makes it easier to recognize as food. You can also add a little chicken broth or tuna juice to whet her appetite. If necessary, your veterinarian may prescribe an appetite stimulant.
Dental disease may be another reason your cat is reluctant to eat. If her teeth hurt, she may not want to pick up and chew pieces of dry food. Try offering canned food instead.
Finally, for cats with arthritis, good pain medications are available to help them move more comfortably. Minimizing arthritis pain can dramatically improve your cat’s quality of life. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
-- It’s Be Kind to Animals Week. Celebrate your love for animals and promote kindness toward them by making sure your dog or cat has up-to-date identification tags or a registered microchip with current contact information; helping shelter pets by volunteering, fostering, adopting or sharing their stories on social media; doing something that your pet enjoys, like letting her sniff for a long time on a walk or playing with her favorite toy; making homemade treats; scheduling a wellness checkup if it’s time for one; and sharing the Earth with wildlife neighbors.
-- In some parts of the country, fenced yards are uncommon, so some people keep their dogs on chains -- but dogs should not be tied out, or tethered, for long periods. Dogs who spend their lives on chains become isolated and frustrated. They are more likely to become dangerous, biting anyone who comes onto their turf. Chaining can be dangerous for the dog, too: There are countless cases where a dog tried to jump a fence, didn't have enough chain to clear it and ended up hanging himself from his collar on the other side. If you don't have a fenced yard, walking your dog or buying a kennel run where he can hang out is better than chaining him outside.
-- Bunnies need lots of space to live comfortably. Their quarters should have room for a litter box, food and water bowls, a digging area, toys, and hay for resting and nesting. A bunny condo can be long or have multiple “stories,” but it should always have enough space for your rabbit to be able to stand on his hind legs and stretch up. An exercise pen or other play area is important, too. Choose one with plenty of head room, plus a “roof” to keep escape-artist bunnies safely inside. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.