But with many pet owners now rejoining work due to relaxation of lockdown rules, the sudden change has triggered separation anxiety and stress amid pets, say veterinarians. The common physical symptoms of these conditions include self harm, loss of appetite, chewing, isolation and inappropriate elimination.
“Summer is my four-year-old Pug and is a jovial dog, who enjoyed its daily walks and interactions with other dogs and people alike. But with the pandemic in the picture, there was a sudden shift in its behaviour as we could not go downstairs for walks. Summer sat next to the main door, scratching and barking, as well as showing a loss of appetite. Soon, it got comfortable with this new schedule, but then the lockdown was relaxed and this sudden change was very stressful for it as even if I went out for a few minutes, Summer would start whining and barking,” said 25-year-old Swareena Shaw, a marketing specialist at a city-based startup.
Dr Anjali Singh, chief veterinary officer at Wiggles.in, said due to the lockdown, such despair among ‘pet parents’ was high and the common root problem across three to four virtual consultations for a physical ailment was the mental well-being of the pet.
“Mental health among pets is as important as mental health among humans and in the same way, it is an often overlooked aspect. Although pet owners try their best to understand their pet’s needs and requirements, more often than not, they are still oblivious to the aspect of their mental well-being. We had a case of a Labrador with watery eyes and the pet parents tried medication, as suggested. But turns out, the dog was suffering from separation anxiety as the domestic help had stopped coming due to the lockdown and in a way, it was crying. It is essential for us to recognise the hidden reasons behind the issues seen in pets,” she said.
Singh said that due to the lockdown, pet parents were constantly at home, which resulted in excitement as well as anxiety among pets. She mentioned that a sudden change in their food also added to the stress and anxiety the pets were under. “Earlier, during the lockdown, with the lack of packaged dog and cat food in the market, many pet parents had no choice but to shift to home-cooked meals for their pets. While the shift was a necessary call at that time, this sudden transition was very difficult for pets to get used to,” she explained.
Highlighting some of the behavioral indicators, Dr Dilip Sonune, a city-based veterinarian, said separation from their parents was hard for pets and their behaviour was a method to get their owner’s attention. “Excessive chewing or being lethargic are signs of uneasiness… or even hurting themselves, like excessive scratching and biting. In pets, guinea pigs and hamsters may show a hiding pattern and refuse to come out of their box, or they may become aggressive, so biting may be observed. Rabbits tend to eat their own excreta out of boredom… in birds, pecking at each other’s feathers is a pattern one can observe when they face anxiety issues,” he said.
Singh said that as owners get back to their regular schedules, gradual change as well as optimum attention for pets can help acclimatise them to their owner’s absence.
“One can start with a few minutes of absence and then gradually increase the time frame. This helps the pet feel that the owner is not gone… or feel an unexpected absence, and initiate anxious behavior. Moreover, adequate amount of attention should be given to the pets as although their owners are home, they are occupied with tight ‘work from home’ schedules,” she said.
“The misconception around pets getting infected with the coronavirus created another problem, with several pets getting abandoned. It was important for us to make pet parents understand that leaving their pets will do more harm. We also observed that a lot of pet parents, in sheer panic, applied alcohol-based sanitiser on their pet’s coats, which can be an irritant for their skin, and thus we recommend pet-friendly sanitiser,” said Singh.
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