Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Self-isolation will be difficult for us all, but we also need to consider the effect on our pets Dogs may become frustrated due to limited exercise or anxious because their normal daily routine has been disrupted. However, many cats relish an empty house. Cats sleep for the majority of time, so the fact that you are at home and interfering with their usual activities could also make them frustrated or anxious.
For dogs, the focus should be on games and other exercises that the dog finds exciting and enjoyable.
Try to introduce your dog to unfamiliar things every day. Do this at home where your dog feels relaxed and comfortable. You could place several objects around your dog. These could be anything from new toys to a skateboard, a tin tray, a gym ball. Be inventive but make sure you don’t overwhelm your dog. When your dog approaches one of the unfamiliar objects reward him with a treat. You can develop this further by getting your dog used to negotiating different surfaces such as bubble wrap, large bin bags, a child’s play tunnel or walking over a ladder on the ground.
General obedience exercises should also be part of your daily routine. Through positive reinforcement training your dog will enjoy learning when to sit, lie down, come when called. By providing your dog with the knowledge that sitting when asked has a positive outcome and makes him feel good, asking your dog to sit will relieve tension and replace his negative feelings with more positive ones.
Play games, teach your dog some tricks, find all the things your dog enjoys doing. Use these activities, toys and games to help him relax and love playing. You could teach your dog to nose bump your hand for a treat. Once you have got him to nose bump when asked you can use this exercise in lots of different ways to keep your dog’s attention.
A useful game is to teach your dog to find treats you throw on the ground. This is a great searching game and stimulates him both mentally and physically.
Activity toys will be extremely useful during this time, but as you are self-isolating you will probably be avoiding going to any shops. Don’t worry you can make your own. Hide toys under boxes, plastic containers. Use a plastic bottle with holes in for a treat ball. Play tug with an old tea towel. You can also wrap treats in a knotted handkerchief for your dog to undo. The list is endless and could keep you occupied thinking of other options.
You may feel the need to decorate given that you have time on your hands!!!! Some dogs can also find it difficult to cope with all these changes, particularly if their beds or favourite resting places have been moved or are no longer accessible. Elderly dogs with fading sight and/or hearing can become very disorientated and may become anxious and fearful of being left alone as their home no longer provides the safety and security they have been used to.
Dogs need to have a secure place to go where they can rest and keep out of the way when the household routine changes. Sleep is an essential part of an animal’s routine and deprivation can cause behaviour problems. It is important to maintain some sort of normality. When everything returns to normal (whenever that might be) and you are able to go back to work and the house becomes quiet, some dogs might breathe a great sigh of relief and savour the peace, others may feel isolated and anxious. It is better to try to keep some sort of routine so that your dogs are still being conditioned to being left alone.
Cats can become very unsettled and stressed when their routine is changed. They may view you as an intruder to their house and object to lots of unwanted attention. This can make cats very anxious and could result in behaviour problems such as inappropriate elimination – just what you don’t need when you are trying to avoid any sort of infection!!!
So, what can we do? For cats we need to ensure that we don’t move litter trays to busy areas of the house, remember that you should always have one litter tray per cat, plus one additional tray. Make sure that cats can use their litter tray in private and without disturbance. Think how you would feel if someone burst into the bathroom whilst you were using the toilet!! It is essential that cats should have at least two safe places to retreat to. The higher the better. You may need to provide a couple of beds upstairs and even better one of them high up on top of a wardrobe for example. And allow cats to have access to these all of the time.
Again, there are lots of activity toys for cats, but just as for dogs you can be inventive with items in the house. Put dry food in the wells of an empty egg box. Your cat will have to scoop the food out rather than just eat it from a bowl. A piece of string with a handkerchief tied to it will stimulate your cat to practise his hunting skills and stimulate him both physically and mentally. Make sure you have plenty of scratching posts, you can make one from a piece of old carpet and a bit of timber
With cats which are highly attached to their owners, problems may occur when you finally return to work. Just as with dogs you make sure that your cat is continually conditioned to periods of isolation. Many cats will relish the thought of being left alone to sleep!!
Whatever happens in this changing world, make sure you look after yourself because if you become ill what will happen to your pets.
Stay safe and well!!!