By Tobi Schwartz-Cassell
COVID-19 doesn’t just affect humans. It touches our pets, too.
For those of us sheltering in place, self-quarantining or in isolation, while making deals with God in hopes that we haven’t been exposed, don’t think for a moment that our pets aren’t absorbing our anxiety.
Recently, I spoke to Rachel Waltzer, VMD, of Garden State Animal Hospital. I asked her if pets can pick up on our apprehension. “Yes, absolutely! There are studies that demonstrate the rise in cortisol—a stress hormone—which occurs in pets when people are anxious. They can even smell when a human is anxious!”
But don’t get her wrong. It’s not all bad for Fluffy, “Pets are certainly enjoying the extra time with their humans at home.”
That’s the case with Rolo, a seven-year-old dachshund from Essex, England. He’s been so overjoyed by his family being on lockdown, that he sprained his tail by wagging it nonstop. Rolo’s owner, Emma Smith, said he is, “currently on pain relief and the vet said he should be healed within a week.”
You can’t make this stuff up.
Thankfully, Dr. Waltzer, a Penn Vet School grad, has the prescription for chill cats and dogs. “You can reduce your pet’s anxiety by reducing your own. Try to control your own emotions. Move slowly and act calmly around your pets. If you rush around with nervous energy, your pet will pick up on it.
“If finding ways to reduce your own anxiety is difficult, try distracting your pets by playing soothing music or working on advanced training. This is a great time to perfect that trick you’ve been thinking about teaching your dog! If all else fails, just toss their favorite toy around.
“Did you know you can teach your cat tricks? My own cat knows how to sit, lay down, and roll over on command. But for all animals, especially cats, try to maintain a normal routine as much as possible. Feed them at the same time as you would on a normal day, clean the litterbox every day, and if you have dogs who are normally confined during the day, try to give your cats a little dog-free time or access to a dog-free space if you feel they need it. For additional help in reducing feline anxiety, check out The Ohio State’s Indoor Pet Initiative.
“Pheromone products can be calming for both cats and dogs. For dogs, I recommend Adaptil brand products. For cats, I recommend Feliway. Plug-ins, sprays, and collars are available at pet stores and can be ordered online. If all else fails, contact your vet to see if anti-anxiety medications may be helpful.”
Some people are concerned that their pets might expose them to the Coronavirus. “Currently, there is no evidence that pets can carry or spread COVID-19. Theoretically, it is possible for pets to act as fomites (object surfaces which may transmit disease). This risk may be limited, but more research is needed in this area. In the meantime, if someone else handles your pet’s leash, carrier, or other accessories, you can minimize your risk by washing your hands and disinfecting these items.”
And to those who are considering or have already taken their beloved pet to the shelter because of concern over the Coronavirus, Dr. Waltzer assures you that, “According to the World Health Organization and the CDC, there is NO evidence that pets can become infected with, or spread, COVID-19. Concern about catching or spreading COVID-19 is not a reason to give pets up to a shelter.
“When at all possible, please try to avoid surrendering pets at this time. Many shelters have had to limit or suspend adoptions and public access, and they are requesting your help to ensure that they are able to care for the animals currently in their care. Limiting surrenders to only those that are urgent will allow them to focus on the pets already in the shelters while adoptions are down.”
And the best news of all, “While pets can certainly pick up on human anxiety, they are also a great way to help reduce anxiety! Research shows that dogs can help lower blood pressure, so don’t give up on your canine or feline friend at this time. Try to remain calm around them, and let their presence soothe you as well.”
Do you have a pet story during these trying days of the pandemic? Please share it in the comments section below.
In the meantime, please stay safe and healthy. And as silly as it might sound, stay home. And wash your hands.