With much of the nation staying at home, cabin fever is at an all-time high. There are many benefits to living with loved ones and furry friends, but it can be difficult to be in a confined space for long periods of time – for people and their animals.
Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedicine, is an emergency and critical care specialist with extensive experience with dogs both at work and at home. She talks about the challenges pets can face in the COVID-19 era and how owners can help by giving their pets structure through routine.
“(At the Veterinary Teaching Hospital) I see a different subset of emergencies because people are at home,” Rutter said. “I see a lot of aggression between pets, such as B. Injuries to large dogs, small dogs, or large dogs and cats. that kind of thing. Pets decrease their fear just as much as we do about the people around us or the pets around us. “
Just as people have found the disturbance of daily life stressful and disturbing, so too have pets taken up the change. According to Rutter, keeping pets on a strong routine is important to minimize their stress levels and reduce the risk of inter-pet aggression.
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An excellent option that can benefit both the pet and the owner is exercise.
“Walking provides a really important pattern of behavior between an owner and a dog,” said Rutter. “It tells them, ‘I am the leader; I take care of you. You don’t have to worry about any of this because I’m in control. ‘”
Walking two dogs together can also help keep a peaceful household as they learn to work together. Rutter compares this dynamic to working with a colleague you may not like – the encounter creates a shared collaborative experience.
Owners can also use their extra time at home to improve their pet’s training, which can add structure and enrichment.
“It’s a great time to teach your dogs tricks. It may seem redundant to teach your pet to sit, heel, stay, or roll over, but it actually provides a really good way to communicate, ”said Rutter. “This is a really solid way for your pet to know that they make you happy. That’s what a lot of them live for, right?”
If pets are behaving aggressively towards one another, Rutter recommends paying attention to raised heels (the hair on the dog’s spine stands up), erect behavior, erect ears, and other dominant-type behaviors. Confrontation can be prevented by separating the animals, using a muzzle, or removing factors that cause conflict.
“Feed your pets separately, let them enjoy toys separately, and remove those items from the environment when animals are together that have been in conflict,” said Rutter. “If pets have ever had conflict in the past, they will continue to do so, and so will no food, possessions, toys or the like; all of these things must be separate. “
Pet owners can also help by reducing stress in their household.
“As a rule, things that would be stressful for a child will also be stressful for an animal,” said Rutter. “For example, raised voices, a lot of chaos in the area, changing routines and having children at home who are usually not at home all the time.”
In extreme situations, aggressive pets can become dangerous to their humans, and especially to young children who cannot see signs of aggression. Rutter encourages pet owners to read the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Dog Bite Prevention website for more information about safe practices.
“Animal bites can be very serious regardless of what they look like on the surface and always require urgent treatment from a doctor,” said Rutter. “Recognizing and avoiding the potential for harm to adults, children, and other pets is key.”
If pet owners have concerns about their pet’s behavior, they should definitely consider contacting a board certified veterinary behaviorist. These specialists have unique skills that allow them to identify problem triggers and develop solutions for the entire household.
“Repeated, worsening, or dangerous situations are best dealt with through professional care,” said Rutter.
Although the current situation is stressful for everyone – person and pet – monitoring your pet for signs of conflict while adding to the enrichment and routine of daily life can help your furry family stay happy until things return to normal.