Columbus Pets Guide: Pandemic Stress (Animal Edition)

The COVID-19 outbreak hasn't been easy on pets, either—and animal owners may face a new challenge when it ends.

Steve Wartenberg
The pandemic has been hard on everyone--pets included.

Change is hard during a pandemic—including for pets. They’ve also had problems adapting to new home environments, as more adults work from home and more kids learn from home. 

“Pets are going, ‘Whoa, I’m used to being alone,’” says Meghan Herron, the senior behavioral vet at Gigi’s, a Columbus dog shelter, and an associate professor of clinical behavior medicine at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. 

Plus, another big change could be on the way once life returns to normal (or at least closer to what it used to be like), and pets are home alone more often. “Separation anxiety for dogs and cats is not a new concept,” says Herron, the lead editor of the recently published book “Decoding Your Cat.” “It’s defined as stress in the absence of an attachment figure.” 

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It can create lots of behavioral issues: pooping, peeing, barking, aggression and household destruction. There are ways to prepare your pet now for the abandonment issues to come. “Have your pet do something positive alone,” Herron suggests. Put a toy in your dog’s crate and go for a walk while he or she plays with it. Fill up a bowl and go sit in another room while the animal eats. 

Gradually increase the time you spend away from your pets during the day. Establish a quiet space for your dog or cat, a safe spot they can retreat to when they’re overstimulated or feeling anxious. “And be sure your children know this space is off-limits,” Herron adds. 

If all else fails, talk to your vet, who can prescribe anxiety-reducing medications and recommend an animal behaviorist. While dogs and cats are Herron’s primary patients, they’re not the only ones who will experience separation anxiety. Ferrets, rabbits, large birds and any animal that’s been bred to be social and bond with humans will miss their owners after so much togetherness, she says.