In a world that seems to have gone mad, every one of us has had to alter our lifestyle to some degree as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions. Self-isolation, working from home, staying home due to loss of work, home schooling; these are just a few of the changes we’ve had to live with over the past 18 months.
But what do our pets think of these changes? The family dog might be thinking “Yeah! My human family members are spending more time with me! This is great! I’ve got my ball and my lead – let’s go to the park!”
In contrast, many of us report a distinct vibe from our feline masters that they’re somewhat less than appreciative of our increased presence at home. Do you believe your cat is miffed by your invasion of their purr-sonal space during the daytime, when you’re supposed to be “out of their fur”?
If so, you could be partially correct (I confess to not having consulted with every domestic cat prior to writing this, and every cat’s temperament and socialisation preferences are different, so I can’t speak for them all). However, if your cat is glaring at you in indignation or avoiding you altogether, it might not be you per se that they’re unhappy with.
As every cat slave knows from experience, cats are creatures of habit and they’re also very territorial. On the habit front, your cat knows when it’s time for breakfast, time for you to go to work; they are often waiting when you get home from work as well. They know when you’ll be on the couch so they can sit on your lap, and that every night when you turn off the TV it’s time for them to claim the best part of your bed.
Any interruption to this routine can be very destabilising for some cats, which helps to explain why houseguests or new family members (human or animal) can cause signs of stress or anxiety in the family feline. This also relates to the issue of territory – in any feline colony there are many rules and agreements between cats, and this applies also to household cats and other neighbourhood cats with outside access.
Through a dominance hierarchy and by cats marking their territory (eg: scratching, rubbing scent from the temples or cheeks, urine spraying), cats within a community create a roster for who goes where and at what time of the day. Because cats do their best to avoid confrontations and fights, most will conform to this timetable. As members of your cat’s colony, you are included in their roster.
Imagine if you went to work and found someone else at your desk. Guess what – it’s no longer your desk. In fact, now your work hours have changed altogether and no one consulted you first. Your job description has also changed, you have a new computer password and email account that you can’t seem to access, and your appointment schedule has been completely revamped.
Similarly, for your cat, lockdown might mean their nap time in the morning sun has been taken over by the kids doing schoolwork in that room, their meals are at odd times and their nice quiet house is now full of people who shouldn’t be there. Their roster of who-does-what and who-goes-where has gone haywire, and they find this extremely unsettling.
Tips to help your cat adapt to lockdown
For many people, lockdown and Covid have delivered challenges and stressors which might make it easy to overlook the needs of the family cat, but as much as you’re able, try the following to help your cat adapt:
- Maintain your cat’s usual routine when you are home. This includes feeding at the normal times. Don’t give extra meals/snacks just because you’re home more.
- If your cat shows a preference for certain parts of the house at particular times, work around them if practical; otherwise provide them with an alternative space.
- Don’t wake your cat up to play during their normal sleeping time (okay, they sleep a lot. Point taken). Respect their need to be alone sometimes.
- Spend quality time with your cat each day. This could be playing, patting or sitting with them in the sun. Let your cat choose the time and place. So what, if your work colleagues see a cat’s butt on Zoom every day? By now, they’re probably used to it.
- Provide additional environmental enrichment such as an indoor garden with cat-friendly plants, cardboard boxes, hidey holes and tunnels. Encourage their natural hunt and play instincts in a safe way.
- Don’t forget your cat’s normal health requirements. Keep their regular veterinary appointments and contact your vet if your cat appears stressed, unwell or is exhibiting unwanted behaviours such as inappropriate toileting, increased grooming, reduced appetite or behavioural changes. Vet clinics are an essential service during covid and providing care for pets is a permissible reason to leave home, so don’t put off meeting your cat’s physical or psychological needs
No to ‘pandemic only pets’
Finally, a pandemic is not a good reason to adopt a new pet. In 2020, record numbers of cats and dogs were adopted from shelters by lonely people in lockdown. In 2021, record numbers are being surrendered back to shelters.
Just as a pet is for life, not just for Christmas, when you adopt any new pet, it should be with the intention of being their family for their entire lifespan, rather than until Covid restrictions end and work/school resumes. Consider your ability to provide for any pet’s health and wellbeing, in both a financial sense and in providing a safe and enriching environment for them, not just for now but for up to 15 years or longer.
“It’s 9am. Why aren’t you at your desk? I’m waiting!” said Maggie.
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