Statistics show that nearly half of Americans are anxious about the possibility of getting the coronavirus. According to the American Psychiatric Association, a whopping 62% of us suffer from anxiety and worry about family and loved ones contracting the disease. It’s obvious the pandemic is creating stress and anxiety for humans, but a leading expert claims that our pets are also affected. Niwako Ogata, an associate professor of veterinary behavior medicine in Purdue University’s Collee of Veterinary Medicine calls this “secondhand anxiety.”
According to Futurity, the disruption of their routines and having more people in the home can cause stress in household pets.
“It’s important to understand that animals are not good at coping with uncertainty in general,” she said. Ogata, who specializes in anxiety disorders in pets, adds that our faithful companions don’t have access to the information humans do, but can sense our stress and uncertainty.
Many pets have become more needy while having the household at home, Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, an animal specialist at Cummings Veterinary Center at Tufts University, told Tufts Now. “Pets’ world just suddenly turned upside down,” she said. “And while individual cats and dogs may vary in their reactions, change in general is very challenging for most animals.”
Animal anxiety can fall into three categories, according to Futurity:
Social tension. Ogata said she’s been seeing more cases of animal aggression as pets vie for attention. With more people working from home, there’s more opportunity for human attention and in homes with several pets, this can cause problems. She advises sticking to a routine and working in one room away from pets. Don’t overdo the hugs and kisses!
Separation related behaviors. Animals with existing anxieties can have a hard time coping when their owners return to work, said the expert. Make the transition gradual, Ogata advises, leaving home for a few hours and working up to a full day, with a lunch break to check on the pets at home. Sometimes anti-anxiety medication can help, she told Futurity.
Seasonal triggers. Summer weather may add to already established anxiety disorders and those triggered by the pandemic. “Thunderstorms and fireworks are huge noise-related triggers for animals with anxiety,” she said. Create a safe space for animals to hide during storms and Independence Day celebrations. Play soothing music in the background or try non-pharmaceutical supplements and specially made anti-anxiety vests.
Cats can also express stress, said Borns-Weil, by unwelcome changes in bathroom behavior such as urinating outside the litter box.
“Right now, there are a lot of unknowns, and our personal anxiety is escalating quite a bit,” said Ogata. “It’s hard for our pets not to be directly impacted by that.”
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