Students have noticed changes in their pets’ behaviour during the pandemic.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been many abrupt changes that numerous people have had to adapt to. Large corporations were forced to cut jobs, many had to make swift transitions from the office to a work-from-home environment, and so much more. These changes presented a domino effect that not only changed people’s lives but may have affected their pets as well.
This has been hard enough for humans to process. But how are everyone’s furry little friends at home dealing with the pandemic?
Jenna Naccarato, a fourth-year journalism student at Ryerson, has noticed changes in the behaviour of her dog, Chloe, a Shih Tzu that she welcomed into her home over nine years ago.
“She’s always been super hyper in the sense that if I wanted to cuddle her, she would squirm, jump on me and lick my face,” Naccaroto said. “But recently she comes into my room on her own, looking for cuddles and she just sits on my lap. It’s the cutest thing.”
Naccarato is currently taking her classes and doing an internship remotely, so she is spending most of her time at home. With more time spent with Chloe, she sees that her pup has become more relaxed and comfortable. The excitement she once felt after being alone and then seeing her owners again is no longer present.
“I’m not too worried about how she’ll respond to everything going back to normal because I live with my grandmother who is always home,” said Naccarato.
While Chloe will still have company after the pandemic, other households may be a little different, which could bring about some more behavioural changes.
The level of scheduling mayhem some experience in a household must also be taken into account.
Thirty-seven per cent of people are finding they have more free time, according to a poll conducted by Leger. Others may struggle to find any free time at all when they are still working from home and their kids are in online school.
Dorothy Litwin, an animal behaviourist, says that there are both positive and negative behavioural changes that could potentially occur in pets during the pandemic. According to her, some pets actually benefit from the extra social time and attention from a full house during a lockdown.
“I believe that our pre-pandemic lives could be quite busy and the resulting bustling schedule probably left many pet owners feeling overextended and having very little energy left for their pet,” said Litwin. “Now there’s extra time for some folks.”
Ontario has been under a provincewide lockdown since Dec. 26. With most family members at home all the time, dogs, cats, or even birds might be getting used to having their owners around. Litwin recognizes that the free time that comes with the stay-at-home order could give owners more time for walks, attention, training time, or even relief for pets who deal with separation anxiety.
Although this seems like a good thing for pets now, there could be negative effects that reveal themselves in a post-pandemic world, when pets may expect these things to continue.
Every pet can react differently to change in their daily schedule.
“Increased interaction time might be welcomed in some cases, while in others having more is not ideal,” said Litwin. “The pet that enjoyed a good mid-afternoon snooze while everyone was out is now feeling stressed from the upset in their routine.”
A majority of owners (55 per cent) reported that their dogs’ routines have changed a lot, and 26 per cent reported that their dogs showed at least one new problem behaviour during lockdown, according to research by U.K. dog welfare charity, Dogs Trust.
On top of that, 23 per cent of Canadians are reporting their highest levels of anxiety have occurred during the pandemic, according to a poll by Pollara Insights.
“Disrupted routines can be tough on some animals,” Litwin said. “If the human caregivers are feeling increased levels of anxiety due to the pandemic, they may behave in ways that are much different now, which would definitely affect their pets.”
Jade Lillywhite, a fourth-year justice, political philosophy, and law student at McMaster University, has also noticed changes in her pet’s behaviour. Her Bengal cat, Loki, has been in her life for two months and has extreme anxiety when left alone.
She works at home and studies remotely while her parents are also at home, so Loki virtually spends no time alone.
“He has pretty bad anxiety about being left alone, not even left alone at home but left in a room alone,” Lillywhite said. “If I leave a room while he’s sleeping and he wakes up and notices I’m gone, you can hear him screaming.”
Lillywhite is planning on moving to Australia, but she doesn’t know if she will be able to take Loki with her and worries about how he will adjust.
“We have been doing a lot of research about Bengals and their needs,” Lillywhite said. “They really need companionship, so we are bringing home his baby brother this Saturday who is also a Bengal.” She hopes that bringing Loki a friend will help his separation anxiety.
For anyone who has noticed their pet exhibiting behavioural changes during the pandemic, Litwin suggests going to a qualified pet professional in an ideal situation. When home, owners should leave their pets alone for short periods of time unless their pet shows signs of distress.
Research shows that pets have a direct effect on human health and well-being through the nature of the relationship. While these animals may help people, it is on the owners to ensure that their pets get the love and attention they need to have the best possible quality of life, both now and post-pandemic.