Insider asked veterinarians how owners can better keep their pets feeling comfortable and healthy while social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Giving your pet a routine and consistent feeding schedule is key.
Owners may want to stock up on enough food and necessary medications to last their pets for two weeks.
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The coronavirus pandemic has made it crucial — and in some places, mandatory – for people across the globe to practice social distancing, or limit their contact with other people by avoiding social events and shared public spaces.
Though having you home all day may sound like your pet’s dream come true, social distancing can also cause your animals to feel bored, restless, confused, and unsettled.
Insider spoke to veterinarians to find out their best tips and advice for pet owners who are cooped up all day with their furry friends.
Create a daily routine to give your pet some comforting structure.
Travis Arndt, veterinarian and director of the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America, told Insider that pets tend to like structure and are happiest when they have a consistent schedule.
If your usual daily routine has been disrupted by the new safety guidelines, establishing a new one will help keep you and your pet happy.
“Create specific playtimes, like before you start your work-from-home day, during your lunch break, or after you’ve signed off for the day. Stick to that schedule as best you can,” said Arndt.
Those who live in small spaces with active animals should use extra-stimulating pet toys.
It can be especially tough to find indoor entertainment for pets who are used to romping outside.
Arndt told Insider that those with lively animals and small homes should focus on giving their pet attention-grabbing toys.
“Provide toys that stimulate your pet’s mind, like those that can be stuffed with treats or squeaky toys,” said Arndt. Tech-savvy pet parents can also use tablet apps designed for pets or stream videos meant to entrance animals.
You might want to stock up on enough pet food, medicine, and other basics to last you two weeks.
As social-distancing and lockdown measures are regularly updated in your area, it’s a good idea to pick up extra pet supplies if possible.
“Have at least a two-week supply of your pet’s food and medications on-hand. You will also want to make sure your pet doesn’t fall behind on flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives,” said Arndt.
Cat owners should also stock up on cat litter and indoor amusements, such as scratching posts or catnip.
Keep in mind that there may be delays in online delivery due to high demand. Don’t wait until you are almost out of your pet’s necessities to place an online order. If you end up picking up essentials at a brick-and-mortar store, be sure to take necessary precautions and keep your distance from cashiers, staff, and fellow shoppers.
Stick to your pet’s regular feeding schedule, even if you’re home all day.
Adam Boyko, veterinarian and associate professor at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, told Insider that it’s important to maintain your pet’s regular feeding schedule while social distancing, even if you have the opportunity to feed them more frequently throughout the day.
“Don’t temporarily adopt anything you are not willing to take on for the long run. You pet will get used to the feeding schedule you use during quarantine, making switching difficult when you no longer have to work from home,” said Boyko.
If you do offer the occasional extra treat, or use frozen food as a distraction, take those additional calories into account so you can help prevent your pet from gaining too much weight, which can come with some health complications.
Add extra exercise to your pet’s day to help them ease into a new routine.
If social distancing means you’re skipping playtime at the park or trips to the beach, your pet may have extra energy to burn.
“Playing in your yard or taking a walk in your neighborhood will keep you and your pet physically active and can help ward off those feelings of isolation and boredom,” said Arndt. “Just be sure to use common sense and avoid crowded places.”
Larger dog breeds will likely need more than one walk throughout the day, and keeping your pet active is a good way for you to get some exercise as well.
Energetic cats can also burn some energy if you play using toys that encourage them to run around, like feather bouncers or laser pointers.
Tiring out your dog mentally can help them cope with being cooped up.
If you’ve walked around the neighborhood a million times but your dog still seems restless, you may want to try giving them a mental workout.
Boyko suggested working on basic training commands like “sit,” “stay,” and “down” in order to burn through your pet’s mental energy and help them settle down a bit.
“When a dog has to hold down the command for 15 minutes, it is actually very tiring for them mentally,” Boyko explained.
If your pet gets agitated during video calls, keep them occupied with a favorite toy.
Photo by Wang He/Getty Images
Some pets get excited or curious when they hear an unfamiliar voice during a video call and even though it’s fun to see a pet pop up on camera, animal antics in the background can easily derail virtual meetings.
To prevent this, give your pet something to do that you know will keep them occupied for an extended period of time.
“Distracting them with their favorite toy could work, or you might want to bring out the big guns by giving them a frozen treat to keep them busy during meetings,” said Boyko.
When all else fails, employ headphones and use the mute button when you aren’t actively talking.
Keep your home environment as peaceful as possible to help active pets calm down.
Nervous or very vocal pets may have a hard time settling down if the house is filled with more people than usual during the day. But you can help your pet cope by keeping unnecessary sounds and voices to a minimum.
“If you like to work or relax with music on but your pet is used to a quiet home while you are away, wearing headphones to listen may be a good solution,” said Boyko.
You can also try restricting noisy activities to one part of the home, using subtitles or a very low volume on your television, and making sure your pet has a quiet place to nap.
Your pet may be looking for more treats than usual now that you’re home often, so remember that scolding your pet for begging can backfire.
If you’re spending more time at home, your pet might start to beg for extra treats or food throughout the day. You might be tempted to reprimand them, but Boyko warned this tactic can actually backfire.
“Don’t push your pet away or scold them, because any attention is good attention in their eyes,” said Boyko. “The best thing you can do for this bad behavior is to ignore them.”
Eventually, your pet will realize they’re not getting what they want and wander off to do something else.
Reward your pet for good indoor behavior with treats or some belly rubs.
If your dog or cat is on their best behavior, feel free to treat them with a small snack or some well-deserved belly rubs.
“Once your pet is behaving how you want them to, like lying down quietly, you can reward them with pats or a treat. This sends them the right signals for how they should act when you’re working from home,” said Boyko.
The key is to only give your pet a treat when they are behaving well, rather than using treats to distract them from bad behavior.
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