In the last year, COVID-19 has pulled normality from under our feet. With nation-wide lockdowns and closed borders altering everything that we took for granted in our lives. We may lament the fact that we cannot see our loved ones, our jobs and livelihoods are uncertain, our holidays have been cancelled, and we cannot sit at a pub on a Friday night to wind down from the week.
But we aren’t the only ones who have seen changes in our daily lives. Our beloved pets, without warning, found that their human counterparts were home all the time. The children no longer went to school, the adults didn’t disappear for work, and the houses were much busier, meaning that their routines were thrown out of the window. After one year since we were first plunged into lockdown, what have we seen in our patients that walk through the doors of our veterinary clinics?
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Animal behaviourists have been preparing themselves for the lockdown surge, an issue that is multifactorial.
As our lives have paused and we are home more, many have seen it as a perfect time to acquire the new puppy, kitten or rescue that they had been thinking about for a long time, but had never found the space in their calendar for. However, the limited amount of socialisation that we have been able to offer our puppies and kittens as a consequence of lockdowns has produced an increase in generalised anxiety in our adolescent pets.
They aren’t used to being left alone whilst their family are out of the house for most of the day. And they aren’t accustomed to meeting new people or other pets in a variety of different situations. In younger animals, where the vast majority of their behavioural development occurs before they are 12-16 weeks old, this lack of socialisation can have a lasting impact into their adulthood.
In our older, more seasoned animals, veterinarians are somewhat surprisingly finding surges in behavioural issues and anxiety. Their routines have been altered, humans now wear masks when they are out and about, and they have far more stimulation when they are at home. When everybody promptly returns back to work and their environment changes yet again, and the house is glaringly empty and quiet, it can cause distress too.
As a side effect of the stay-at-home order, we have seen a marked change in the weight of many animals over the last year, which has gone one of two ways. Some animals – as a product of their owner’s being home more, with nothing else to do but take their dog on a walk – have had the greatest ‘glow up’ of their lives. Good for the dog’s happiness level and waistline.
Yet some of our pets are reaping the consequences of extra tid-bits, of the sneaky crust of toast under the table, the extra treat mid afternoon… And they are realising that they only have to vocalise a bit more at the suddenly present human for them to tip more biscuits into the bowl, or casually pass another dental stick, especially when they are in that all-important zoom meeting.
As a knock-on effect from there being more puppies and kittens bought than ever before, from humans giving their pet more tidbits from their fridge, to getting their noses in on smelly things during walks, we have seen an increase in our acute gastroenteritis cases. Puppies and kittens are prone to upset stomachs, and especially with the concerning rise in puppy/ kitten farms, we are seeing an increased number of cases of diarrhoea in our younger, more vulnerable animals.
In our older pets, who will happily mouth particularly fetid items on their walks, we are seeing an insurgence of vomiting and diarrhoea This is a result of consuming something that wasn’t charitable for their stomach lining or intestinal flora. Also, with the ability to ask a human for treats all day, or eating an object around the house that wouldn’t ordinarily be lying there – a child’s school books, for example – we have a little more merit to the ever timeless excuse, ‘my dog ate my homework.’
FLUTD- Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease
FLUTD is an umbrella term for urinary disease in our feline friends. Urinary stones, infections, tumours can all be responsible for wreaking havoc in their bladder. However, cats are extremely sensitive to any changes in their environment and in sequelae of the stress response, their bladder wall can end up being the part of their body to suffer, which is what we label as ‘feline idiopathic cystitis.’
Whether the change is obvious – there’s a new cat in the neighbourhood lurking around your garden, or you’ve introduced a new family member, or recently: the humans are home all the time – some cats are more sensitive to stress than others. You may find that they are scratching in their litter tray and producing only small amounts of urine, or that they are passing some blood. There is no particular test for FIC; your veterinarian may reach the diagnosis by a diagnosis of exclusion and a response to treatment. However, anecdotally, we are seeing a rise in these cases.
We are all taking to the woods, the forest, and the hills. In a somewhat beautiful philosophical circle that is a conversation for another day, we are finding solace in nature. And what better than to bring our dog along on the adventures? As a simple statistical average, more walks mean more lameness, whether that is a result of a dog having an acute injury from tearing around the fields, a grass seed in a paw, a nail pull injury, or flare ups of chronic arthritis, we’re seeing more lame limbs than ever before.
What can we do?
As the year continues on, and we hopefully resume some sense of normality, it is important to remember that our pets are at mercy to our fluctuating routines. Supporting them as best you can and monitoring them for any changes in their behaviour or health, is important for their overall wellbeing.
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