Stay in, act weird; how pets are reacting to the new normal during lockdown
- 30 Dec, 2020
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"We’ve all had to get a bit crazy to make it through the last few weeks but if the posts on social media are anything to go by, Cookie and Biscuits are acting a little loco! As anyone who has ever owned a pet will know, there is an extremely fine line between ‘normal’ and ‘weird’ when it comes to pet behaviour. So, the fact that pet parents are even bothering to mention this online means that there is definitely something going on."
Weird lockdown pet behaviour
There is no shortage of reports of odd behaviour amongst pets during lockdown. Italy was one of the first European countries to impose restrictions. In Rome, a black lab called Alex has gone from being over excited and a bit manic to retreating to the sofa and eyeing his humans with suspicion. Another multi-dog Italian household experienced increased in-fighting and a general raised tension amongst the doggies. In the US, there are reports of cats sliding across worktops whilst others are literally bouncing off the walls! Some British dogs and cats are becoming incredibly demanding but others are withdrawn. Owners are enduring accompanied bathroom visits, constant whining and headbutts when they are trying to Zoom their boss!
What the pet psychologists have to say
There’s plenty of animal behaviour science to explain what is going on here. In particular, Professor Leanne Lilly from Ohio State University and Professor Ng from the University of Tennessee have some illuminating insights. They explain that our furry friends are simply reacting to a change in their normal lives. For many animals, change is associated with an increase in stress and it is that stress that can cause some strange behaviour. So, when they spot more people than normal walking past your window to take their daily permitted exercise, your pooch may view every one of these as a potential intruder and get very jumpy.
Stressed pets display displacement behaviours to help them cope
The biggest change is that us humans are at home more than before. Most dogs see this as good thing but it still represents a disruption to their routine and not all pups respond well to that. Stressed pets display “displacement behaviors” to help them cope and these include mounting, barking, paw-lifting, scratching and spinning in a circle or pacing around. They also overgroom and yawn a lot so perhaps your pooch is not as bored with your company as you thought! This is not actually that different from us playing with our hair or biting our nails when we feel nervous.
Don’t forget that you at least understand why life has changed but your pooch has absolutely no idea what is going on!
So, what can we do to help? The main thing is to try to maintain exercise and feeding routines that are as close as possible to your normal life. Some patience and understanding is also needed – don’t forget that you at least understand why life has changed but your pooch has absolutely no idea what is going on!