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Supporting your pets now and during the post-pandemic transition

Posted by Mass General Brigham on July 08, 2021

The Mass General Brigham EAP had a conversation with Rob Halpin, MSPCA–Angell, about how to support our pets now and during the post-pandemic transition. For employers with employees returning to the office, there are many tips pet owners can start using during the transition. Below, we share Rob’s helpful guidance that he has gathered through consultation with veterinary experts at Angell Memorial Medical Center.

Humans are not the only ones who have experienced changes in their regular routine during the pandemic. Pets have also seen life as they know it modified, and a record number of animals found families during the last year. According to the MSPCA-Angell, their shelters have reported a 10-fold increase in adoptions. 

Training your new puppy or adult dog

If you are lucky enough to have added a pet to your family, you have most likely realized the joy this can bring – but also some of the challenges. Before COVID, most of us were not used to dogs barking or pulling on our clothes while we were in a work meeting. Rob explained that pet owners may be unintentionally reinforcing these behaviors by the way they acknowledge or respond to them. Believe it or not, ignoring your dog when they engage in these behaviors may bring more success than a verbal or non-verbal reprimand. Here are some Training Tips from Angell to help you and your dog learn more productive behaviors. Angell also offers Animal Behavior Classes that are now available virtually.

Preparing your pets for your transition to life outside the home

Whether you are returning to work or re-engaging in pre-pandemic activities and hobbies, you should determine how (and if) this will impact your pets and their well-being. Rob stressed that it is vital to start planning for this transition well in advance to allow for time to evaluate your pet’s needs and tweak your plan. It may take some trial-and-error efforts. Share your pandemic pet photos in the Comments section below.

Guidance for dog owners
Chances are that many dogs welcomed more time with their family members and are now accustomed to having them around more often. To acclimate dogs to the “new normal,” Rob suggests the following:

  • Be patient with yourself and your pet. Be realistic about what you can achieve and how quickly.
  • Ease dogs into being home without family members. Start by leaving for small increments and increase over time (try 2 hours once a week, then 2.5 hours twice a week and so on).
  • Evaluate your dog’s comfort level during your absences from the house and look for signs of distress or boredom:
    – Inappropriate soiling
    – Shredding/tearing things up/tipping things over
    – Changes in eating habits
     – Excessive barking
  • Provide “enrichment activities” to give your dog something to work towards – finding toys around the house, getting treats or peanut butter out of a Kong toy or similar item.
  • Have a plan for socialization and exercise. Dogs need walks or exercise at least a few times during the day. Set up a schedule with neighbors, family, dog walkers or daycare if you are unable to go home during work.
  • Don’t try to get all your dog’s exercise in before work and without proper training. They need time to adjust and build up endurance. Angell reports more incidences of heat stroke in April than in August.
  • Enlist neighbors or a video camera to inform you on your pet’s progress or track issues.
  • Consult your vet, an animal behavior expert or trainer if you have any concerns or if your dog has greater than expected trouble adjusting.

Guidance for cat owners
Rob explained that unlike dogs, many (but not all) cats are more comfortable with privacy and solitude. Clinically, Angell has had an uptick in visits for “blocked cats” who were reluctant to use litter boxes due to a lack of privacy. This resulted in stress and anxiety and a change in regular habits. There are cats who prefer more social interaction. To acclimate these cats to the “new normal,” Rob suggests the following:

  • Be patient with yourself and your pet. Be realistic about what you can achieve and how.
  • If it safe to do so, open windows with screens to allow cats to hear and see birds and outdoor activity.
  • Keep the litter box clean and leave fresh food and water.
  • Scatter toys around the house to encourage activity and mental stimulation.
  • Consider adding another cat if this makes sense for your family.

Resources to help you and your pets thrive

This article was written by the Mass General Brigham communications team through the Employee Assistant Program (EAP).

Disclaimer: The content in this blog post represents the clinical opinions of the providers at AllWays Health Partners and is based on the most currently available clinical and governmental guidance.

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