Pet Talk: June 2020

Photo: Henry Kaus.

It’s been two months since my last article. In it, I focused on how this break in our normal routine with COVID might be a great opportunity to adopt a pet. Searches for “finding a pet” increased 35% on Google and shelters across the country report significant increases in their adoptions. And now as tens of thousands of these pets have started their new lives, we’re about to begin making changes to their routines as we move more freely as the restrictions begin to lift.

I have first-hand experience of working at a shelter and have seen the unbelievable stress relinquished pets have when arriving, along with the uncertainty that eventually joy as they are adopted back out. And as much as the pet owners have best intentions when bringing in a new pet, sadly, many are returned a few weeks or months later when circumstances change. I’m not alone in feeling concern that this could happen soon, especially as our routines change.

What might seem insignificant to us could be very stressful for our cats. According to Oregon Humane Society veterinarian Dr. Victry Fredley, “their stoic nature may hide stress that manifests in a number of symptoms collectively known as Feline Idiopathic Cystitis, or FIC.” Dr. Fredley explains that FIC is an umbrella term for a “collection of clinical signs that your cat may exhibit such as straining to urinate, blood in urine, urinating in inappropriate places such as on your bed or carpet, licking at the urinary opening, and in severe cases, signs of urethral blockage. The underlying problem that leads to these clinical signs is stress…this stress leads to changes in the brain and the bladder that causes the bladder to be painful and inflamed. Think of it like how humans get headaches when they are stressed; instead of getting headaches, cats get bladder-aches.”

As opposed to their more stoic feline friends, when stressed, dogs tend to respond behaviorally. Pack animals by nature, dogs become stressed whenever their pack (you and your household) makes changes to routine that involves being apart. An overall term, called “Separation Anxiety,” is used when dogs display stress when left alone. All dogs inherently feel this anxiety when away from their pack, but some handle it better than others. Barking, drooling, pacing and destructive behaviors are common and often lead to the re-homing of thousands of dogs every year.

So, how do you begin to prepare your household for success? First, take a deep breath and de-stress yourselves. Our pets are very sensitive creatures that accurately read your mood and body language. Being optimistic and confident yourself will be the very best starting point.

For cat owners:

  • Make changes to your routine slowly if possible
  • Utilize pheromone plug-ins-they really can help. I love ThunderEase Cat Calming Diffuser a lot. It works and has a great price-point!
  • Unless you really need to, it’s not a good time to change the type of litter or food your cat is used to
  • Give your cats a little extra interactive play and snuggle time. Cats aren’t as “aloof,” as some people think. They love their people and secretly wish you would never leave!

For dog owners:

  • If your schedule is going to change, the time is now to begin short times apart. Practice “leaving” by going through all the actions of leaving without actually leaving: Grab your coat and keys and walk out your door. Wait 30 seconds on the other side. If your pup isn’t barking, re-enter, and ignore him. He may act like you have been away all day, and you will reinforce his anxiety if you get excited to see him. Acknowledge him once he’s calmed and ignores you. By giving him attention at that time, you are actually reinforcing his calm behavior with a positive reinforcement: your attention. If your dog is barking the second you leave the door. Just wait until he stops. It might be a minute, or 10 minutes. By waiting until he is quiet, you are entering and reinforcing a quiet dog as that being the behavior you’re looking for. Practice this a lot and start increasing your “away” time until eventually leaving is a non-issue. This can take a few days up to a few weeks. This can be an incredibly powerful and effective way to increase their self-esteem!
  • Give your dog a treat ball or puzzle toy a couple of minutes before you leave. He will begin to realize that you’re leaving equals a treat for him
  • Make sure you give plenty of exercise. A tired dog is less likely going to feel the intensity of the separation that a non-tired pup would feel
  • There are pheromone diffusers for dogs too, and they work! I love ThunderEase Dog Calming Diffuser a lot. It works and has a great price-point! I suggest every dog owner have one to at least start. You may not need it after a month or so, which is the goal!
  • I also like ThunderShirts a lot. They work on about 80% of the dogs and are fully guaranteed for 45 days after purchase. This gives a lot of time to test it and make sure it works for your pup.

I’m not a fan of medicating dogs for anxiety, as I don’t believe it’s fair to alter a mood that is natural and normal. It’s alright that your dog is stressed when you leave-as they have the ability to learn how to self-soothe if you are consistent with your routine about how you interact with them when you leave and when you return. Many dogs are on anxiety medications because it may seem like the only option, or the owner doesn’t realize how they can help minimize their stress by following the simple techniques above. Be consistent, be positive and be calm and you will likely see a smooth transition with your pets, be that they are new or not to your household. We are available for all your questions and carry the products mentioned in this article. We are here for you and your pets and only wish the best as you enter into summertime and new routines!