Help Your Pets Cope With Post-Covid Loneliness

Cats Protection is offering advice to pet owners on how to help their animals cope with post-covid separation issues, following the removal of restrictions last week.

The UK’s leading cat charity has concerns for the mental wellbeing of lockdown pets who have never truly experienced being alone for long periods.

“The pandemic saw us spending time at home like never before and many people decided lockdown was the perfect opportunity to get a pet. However, some pet owners may find that as life returns to pre-covid normality, their animals experience separation issues and loneliness,” said Nicky Trevorrow, Cats Protection’s Behaviour Manager.

“Our pets have become very accustomed to having us at their constant beck and call, armed with treats and attention whenever they want it. Now they are going to have to adjust to their owners suddenly not being at home quite as much and some people may find their pets develop a few behavioural issues as a result.”

Returning to life as normal is a big adjustment for both you and your pet, but there are a number of steps owners can take to help their animals feel more relaxed. Cats Protection’s Behaviour Manager, Nicky Trevorrow, has shared her top tips for helping cats cope with the lifestyle change:

  • Introduce a regular routine: Cats are creatures of routine, and they find sudden changes stressful. Keeping to a regular routine of feeding times, playtimes, rest-times and so forth can help them feel more relaxed.
  • Make sure your pet has access to enrichment: Cats are natural hunters, so they need a lot of mental and physical stimulation. Try leaving toys out for them to play with, cardboard boxes for them to explore or hide in and use puzzle feeders for their mealtimes. You can even pop a couple of spoonfuls of dried catnip into an old sock, securely knot and give it to your cat.
  • Make the most of playtime: You can help your cat burn off some energy by engaging them in some playtime before you leave. Try using a fishing rod-toy, cats love chasing them around and taking part in this energetic game, ensuring that they are safely stored out of the cat’s reach afterwards.
  • Make sure they have safe access to outside: Cats like to prowl and explore their territory, so where safe and possible, ensure your cat has easy access to a cat flap. If your cat has been microchipped, you might want to consider installing a microchip cat flap in your home. These identify cats trying to enter your home by scanning their microchip and will only allow entry to those whose microchip number you have programmed into the cat flap. A great buy for those looking to exclude intruders.
  • Help them to feel safe when left alone: Cats feel the most secure when they can get up high and survey their surroundings, so make sure your cat has somewhere to safely get up high. Try leaving the radio or television on low to help some cats and consider using a pheromone diffuser which plugs in and emits a reassuring scent.
  • Don’t make a big deal of leaving: It might make us feel better to shower our pet with hugs and kisses before we leave but it can actually make them feel more anxious. Instead, make fuss minimal so your moggy doesn’t feel too stressed about you leaving.
  • Make gradual changes: If possible, gradually increase the amount of time you leave your pet so that they can adapt more easily.

“Some pets will take changes in their stride and not be too bothered about you coming and going. But other pets may find this more challenging to cope with, particularly lockdown pets that don’t have much experience of being alone,” said Nicky Trevorrow.

“Make sure you are aware of cat stress signals such as food refusal, hiding more than usual, becoming ‘snappy’ or less tolerant of people, excessive meowing, hissing or growling, reluctance to use the litter tray, excessive scratching, exaggerated swallowing or licking their nose and any vomiting or diarrhoea.

“Cats can feel fearful, anxious, frustrated, bored, or even depressed, all emotions that cause stress. It’s important to understand your cat’s underlying emotions as this can help you understand how they are coping with any sudden changes.”

If your pet finds it difficult to settle and continually displays stressed behaviour, you can speak to your vet or hire an animal behaviourist to get additional help and advice. Find out more about helping your cat with stress, on Cats Protection’s website.

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