As many of us are staying home, our pets are getting more interaction with us than they had prior. Is this a good thing for them? It all depends. Pets generally love it when their caregivers are in the same location as them. They love us like we love them. They have a strong bond and connection to us. In fact, there are lots of books and studies on the subject of the human and dog relationship. So, we may think that being home with our pets is a good thing. Emotionally, for a pet, having us around is a positive experience. However, it all depends on how we act at home. We should be aware and take precautions to ensure our beloved pets are doing well during this health epidemic. Here are some things to consider:
Is Your Pet Sleeping Enough Now That You Are Home?
A few years ago, after I took a voluntary separation package from my old employer and I stayed home for several months to learn how to sew and design clothes. You see, I had this goal of applying for the TV show Project Runway, even though my prior sewing experience was a little more than sewing loose buttons or fixing a hem. I had my sewing machine in one room, in another room I had a large table where I did all of my pattern making and cutting and then when I would need to do detail hand sewing (or fixing my mistakes) I would sit on the couch in the living room and work there. Pretty much, I was up and down all day long going from room to room. My sweet little dog would follow me everywhere and after 5 months of this, he become seriously ill. Now, his diagnosis was related to something that may have been genetic but during the time I was at home, he was not getting the amount of sleep that he got prior to me being at home. He was on lots of medicines and treatments but he didn’t fully recover until I went back to work. Though I have no scientific data on why he made a complete recovery, I do feel that him being able to sleep helped him with his recovery.
Most dogs need between 12 and 14 hours of sleep each day and some require even more than that. Most cats need between 12 and 16 hours of sleep a day. The average American sleeps slightly less than 7 hours a night. If your pet is staying awake when you are home, they are not getting the sleep they need. This could impact their health and well-being.
To help your pet sleep, stay in one room and area as long as you can. When they are sleeping during the day, don’t go up and pet them no matter how cute and adorable they look (trust me, I know it is tempting- I struggle all the time with this.) Keep to a routine as much as possible so they can learn it and know when it is best for them to sleep. Create an environment for them that promotes sleep, such as soft lighting, soft music or anything that is not jarring. Close curtains and blinds so they are not distracted by the outdoors.
Is Your Pet Eating Too Much?
We usually eat at least one meal away from home when we are working. Now at home, we are eating all of our meals in one place. We may have a habit of sharing some of our food with our pets or out of boredom, we may give our pets additional treats.
If you have a food focus pet, you will need to practice restraint during this time frame. I am actually lucky; my dog will only eat if he is hungry. If I gave him a treat when he is not hungry, he will just go and bury it in the yard (or in the crevices of the couch!) and save it for later. But not all pets are like this. Many will just keep eating. It’s important that you do not overfeed your pets because it will lead to obesity and health issues. I know it is tough to resist when they give you the sad eyes.
Fortunately, with dogs, most vegetables are good for them and vegetables are low in calories. If you can’t resist the pleas, treat them with some fresh carrots or string beans. For a list of safe fruits and veggies for dogs, click here. My dog goes crazy over cucumbers which are very low in calories. If he sees me slicing a cucumber, he starts whining up a storm until a slice is in his little mouth.
Is Your Pet Getting Enough Exercise?
Depending on where we live, we may or may not be able to walk our pets outside or take them to a field or park. Some of us do not have yards or space for our furry friends to explore. What do we do then to make sure they get their bodies moving?
With cats, all you need is string, a laser pointer or a cat toy to get them going. Cats love to chase and hunt, so any game that you play with them that is about chasing and hunting, they will respond. Need ideas? Here is a funny cat and laser pointer compilation video and here is a video with cats playing with balls of yarn.
In regards to dogs, they love to play. When I lived in Nebraska and went through my first winter with my pup, I would throw a bouncy ball down the long hallway and he would run and slide to catch it. We also played tug-a-war with a rope, and while playing, he would make this sound that reminded me of the movie Gremlins. I found this good article from iheartdogs.com about 10 Ways to Exercise Your Dog Indoors.
And, is your pet being affected by your emotional state?
Let’s face it, right now many of us are in various degrees of reaction to what is happening right now with the corona virus. We may be in the extreme panic mode phase or we may be in the "I made peace with it and realize that this too shall pass" phase or we may be somewhere in between. Pets pick up on our moods and emotions. They look to us to see what is going on in their household.
Pets do best with routine. However, we know that right now, this is anything but routine. Getting yourself into a positive state of mind will help your pet to relax and adjust to the changes. If you take care of you, you will also be able to take care of your furry friend. You may want to check out my article on 100 Things to Do During Social Distancing. There are a couple of sections on self-care. Also, to help with your mood, you can check out another article I wrote, Gratitude Helps With Life’s Curve Balls which was written a couple of months before the impacts of the corona virus in the US.
Once you take care of you, create a new routine for you and your pet. If you normally walk you pet in the morning but can’t go outside, then create playtime during that time instead. If your pet eats everyday at a specific time, keep that routine going even if you could feed them earlier or later. Show your pet love and confidence and that though things have changed, everything is OK.
We are so fortunate to have our pets in our lives. They complete our families. They love unconditionally. They are joy captured in cuteness and fur. They are love, which is something we all need, especially now.
Please note: If your pet has anxiety, behavior or health issues, please consult with a trained professional or your veterinarian.
Theresa Touhey is the owner of Nature Reflections, an online jewelry store focused on handcrafted nature inspired jewelry. She is an avid writer and most of all, she is the guardian to O (short for Orion,) a rescued Havanese dog that she adopted from the Nebraska Humane Society.