De-escalation and pets - Consequences and recommendations

The quarantine to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the Covid-19 disease, has left millions of people confined to their homes. In many of them there are also dogs and cats that, as we will see in this AnimalWised article, can suffer problems when we have to separate after confinement..

In Spain, and other countries, the de-escalation process has begun to end confinement in a progressive and safe way. But, ¿how does this affect animals? ¿What should we consider? Next, we talk about the main consequences and share our recommendations to achieve a deconfinement with animals without complications.

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  1. Companion animals during quarantine
  2. De-escalation phases
  3. What problems can animals present related to separation after confinement?
  4. How to solve problems in dogs related to separation after confinement?
  5. Recommendations to avoid problems in dogs during deconfinement
  6. Recommendations for cats during de-escalation
  7. And the other pets?

Companion animals during quarantine

There have been many governments that, since January 2020, have decreed measures to contain the spread of the new SARS-CoV-2 virus. Among all, the confinement stands out for its impact. It basically means that people must remain inside their homes and can only go out to carry out work considered essential, to stock up on food and medicine or in case of emergencies. For their part, dogs can take their usual walks, but with terms:

  • The dog must be tied and not let go at any time.
  • The walk is reduced to the time necessary for the evacuation of feces and urine.
  • It is not allowed to come into contact with other dogs or people.
  • You cannot go to dog parks.
  • The hours with less influx of people are recommended.
  • You have to collect the excrement and pour soapy water over the urine.
  • Better that the same person always comes out. If the dog's usual caretaker tests positive for the coronavirus, it is advisable that a healthy person take charge.

These rules and the confinement itself, which means that the keepers are practically 24 hours a day with their dogs, have achieved modify routine of a good number of copies. We may have already noticed that all these changes are altering the dog's behavior. In turn, cats have also experienced these same changes if they were not used to being accompanied for so many hours. For these animals, in addition, the alteration of their routines supposes a much greater impact, since they are more susceptible than dogs and tend to stress very easily..

De-escalation phases

Once the de-escalation period has begun, changes are coming again which, especially if they are abrupt, can be problematic now that the dog or cat has become accustomed to our constant presence. Dogs that already suffered from some problems can see them accentuated, but they can also appear for the first time in units that have been balanced so far.

Basically, they have established four phases to start the de-escalation, although some provinces may see some of them altered:

  • Phase 0: time slots for walking, outdoor exercise is allowed with time restrictions, wakes can be held for up to 10 people maintaining a safety distance, among other measures.
  • Phase 1: meetings of up to 10 people in homes, wakes of up to 15 people, circulate around the province (not all), among other measures.
  • Phase 2: meetings of up to 15 people, wedding celebrations with a maximum of 100 people, it is allowed to circulate around the province, among other measures.
  • Phase 3: social contact between non-vulnerable people, among other measures.

With regard to animals, such as dog walks, they can be gradually expanded, although we are still waiting for more details. Social contact with other dogs will be allowed in phase 3.

What problems can animals present related to separation after confinement?

The changes destroy the predictability and control of the environment that cats and dogs need. They cause stress and this is manifested in the development of behaviors that make coexistence difficult. It is not a whim of the animal. He doesn't want to disturb us. It is his way of expressing the stress he feels, his way of asking for help.

Problems in dogs

The most common behaviors that we can observe after confinement are the following:

  • Smashes: from any object that is left within reach, from furniture to clothes to shoes or carpets.
  • Urination or defecation indoors: even if you evacuate normally outside.
  • Barking and, in general, excessive vocalizations: howling, whimpering, crying ..., any sound that is emitted without stopping.
  • Aggressiveness towards other dogs during the walk: it does not have to be in the form of attacks, it is useful to show your teeth, growl or bark insistently.
  • Aggression towards people: this behavior is the most delicate, since it involves a risk, especially if there are minors at home who will also be there 24 hours a day. If the children should never be left alone with the animals, less if we have appreciated aggressive reactions. In this case, you must contact a professional yes or yes.

Shredding, inappropriate elimination, and vocalizations are signs that sometimes appear together in the disorder known as separation anxiety, It can also cause repetitive or stereotypical behaviors, for example, the repeated licking of some part of the body, which can lead to self-mutilation. Its name refers to the fact that it occurs when the dog is alone, separated from its family. It is related to the feeling of insecurity you feel when you see yourself alone, without your references. Do not forget that the dog is a social animal, of a pack. After confinement, it may appear exacerbated in specimens that already presented some sign compatible with anxiety previously, but it can also be detected in dogs that until now had not shown this behavior..

Problems in cats

For their part, the cats probably developed certain problems during the beginning of the confinement because their privacy and their current routine were totally compromised. In these cases, it is not surprising that they displayed the following behaviors as a result of stress:

  • Urination out of the sandbox- This is one of the main signs of stress in cats. It is not that the animal no longer likes its litter box, but that it feels the need to mark because it considers that it has lost control of its environment and wants to regain it..
  • Vertical scratches on furniture and / or walls: as with the previous point, it is a form of marking to release stress.
  • Aggressiveness: a stressed cat can be aggressive to a greater or lesser degree.
  • Stop eating or eat more: both poor appetite and binge eating are associated with stress.

However, once de-escalation has started, these animals are more likely than dogs to quickly get used to the "new normal". Although it is not usual, some specimens may develop separation anxiety, but as we say, it is not the most common.

¿What about the puppies?

The first months of the puppy's life are not only important due to the rapid physical growth that occurs, but they are fundamental on a psychological level. It is the stage in which socialization occurs, a fundamental process for the construction of a balanced character in the future. This is based on exposing the dog to numerous stimuli, which will be influenced by confinement. Therefore, when this is over and the dog returns to the street with more noise and stimuli, it may show unwanted behaviors such as fear, aggressiveness, or excessive barking, in addition to behaviors such as those we have referred to inside the home.

How to solve problems in dogs related to separation after confinement?

First of all, we must assume that we are facing a problem. It is not normal for a dog to present behaviors such as those mentioned. It is a sign of stress and we have to remedy it. It is normal for caregivers in these situations to be confused. When they detect a wound or vomiting they know they have to go to the vet. But peeing at home, attacking other dogs or spending hours barking, is often assumed to be the lesser evil. You don't even know who to turn to. If this is your case, the first step is have the vet check the dog in case the conflictive behavior had a physical basis. For example, a dog may urinate at home because of a urine infection or kidney problem. If he is healthy, that is when a behavior problem will be considered. In this case, veterinarians specialized in canine behavior, educators or ethologists will be the professionals indicated to solve it. They will give us the necessary guidelines to address the problem. In some cases it will even be necessary to rely on drugs that the veterinarian will have to prescribe.

In VETFORMACIÓN, we also train you in canine ethology through our Canine ethology course, with which you can learn to handle these types of situations yourself, help other dogs with these problems and make your passion your profession.

Recommendations to avoid problems in dogs during deconfinement

Dogs are the animals most prone to develop separation anxiety once the de-escalation has started. Therefore, by way of prevention, you can already implement measures such as the following with the aim of adapt the dog to the new routine what the de-escalation will entail:

Play with him

Especially for puppies, play is an essential activity. It is a good idea to have a reserve fund for both purchased and homemade toys. Thus, every day we can withdraw some from you and offer you new ones to keep your interest. You have to play with him, but also give him tools so that he can have fun alone. In this sense, food dispenser toys are an excellent option, since they allow the dog to entertain himself without us. In addition, these same toys can be used when the animal begins to be alone again.

Encourage exploration

It is a more elaborate form of play to encourage you to maintain patches of independence. At home it can be done through tracking, activity for which the dog must use his nose. You just have to hide an object, like his favorite toy, or a prize and encourage him to look for it. It is a positive activity that can also be done in the absence of the caregiver if we provide him with a Kong from which food comes out, we hide pellets of feed around the room or leave him any intelligence toy. More activity is usually synonymous with less problems.

Discover more benefits of Kong for separation anxiety.

Don't forget the ride

Going for a walk is essential for dogs. According to the de-escalation progress, it is foreseeable that they may increase their time on the street. This activity not only offers them physical exercise, but is also a mental stimulus, as well as socialization. For these reasons, take long walks, exercising them and allowing them to explore quietly is essential to improve their well-being.

If your dog is a puppy, take the opportunity to expose him to the maximum of situations and congratulate him when he reacts calmly to encourage that attitude.

Keep the routine

The dog's habits should try to be kept to the maximum. This is especially important in older specimens, which are more disturbed by changes and it is more common for them to become disoriented. Routine implies predictability and, to some extent, control, thereby helping to reduce stress. It is not necessary that all the tasks be exactly at the same time, but it is good to maintain the same order. Better if it is the one prior to confinement or the one that we will adopt during the de-escalation. Otherwise, the dog may feel lost by not knowing when to eat or walk, causing frustration..

If we must get into work outside the home, the ideal would be to gradually modify the dog's schedule until it fits in with our new routine.

Provide a safe zone

Assign him an area of ​​the house where he can feel safe so that he agrees to spend time in it. In that place you will not be able to be disturbed. Add activities with which he can entertain himself. Food can also be given in that room so that it establishes a positive association with the place. If when you are in it, you reward or congratulate yourself, the behavior is reinforced.

It is a good idea to protect yourself from outside noise, as unfamiliar sounds the dog perceives are a stressor. In this sense, we can leave you soft background music or even television or radio..

Respect their quiet moments

It is very important to respect the space of our dog, its schedules and rhythms. Therefore, when he is calm, at rest and calm, it is not advisable to disturb him. In order to promote a positive environment that helps us, little by little, return to routine and usual outings, we must take this recommendation into account. This is especially relevant in those homes where there are children.

Make a gradual change

If you have to go back to work, ideally you could gradually leaving the dog alone. That is, after being together for 24 hours, if you suddenly stay for only eight hours or more, it is easier for problems to arise. If possible, plan the incorporation to the work activity. Take advantage of the allowed departures to leave the dog alone for more and more minutes, but gradually going from less to more time. When you get home, if he greets you nervously, ignore him so as not to reinforce that restless behavior. Pet him only when he's calm. This way you will be reinforcing the appropriate behavior.

During those first outings, it is essential that you leave a toy like the Kong so that the dog can relate them to positive stimuli. If, on the contrary, you associate your exits with negative stimuli, as if it were a punishment, the work done will not work because the animal will become stressed, develop anxiety, etc..

On the other hand, it is better that we do not concentrate on the hours in which we are going to be outside the activities with the dog, so that it adapts to the tranquility at those times. While we are telecommuting we can lock ourselves in a room, which will serve as a separation with the dog so that it will become disinhabited in our presence.

Use pheromones

You can purchase different products that work through smell in an attempt to appease the dog. They can be used in a diffuser, although they are substances that are also included as ingredients for treats or feed. You should start using pheromones 1-2 weeks before separation. They do not need a veterinary prescription, unlike drugs that, of course, can only be administered under prescription.

Avoid punishment

We always recommend opt for positive reinforcement to educate and train dogs, but right now it is even more important. Punishment will only make the animal stress, feel insecure and even react aggressively, moods and situations that we want to avoid at all costs.

Reward the desired behaviors, give your dog the attention it deserves, be patient and follow all the above tips to carry out a de-escalation as positive as possible.

Recommendations for cats during de-escalation

Cats are animals that love to have their own space and privacy. As this is compromised during confinement, it is not surprising that they feel some relief once the de-escalation begins. However, this does not mean that some cats cannot suffer stress or anxiety again, since returning to the previous routine implies a new change from the current routine that will have been so difficult for them to internalize. Therefore, at this time it is important to carry out a series of measures and recommendations:

  • Respect their space: keep the space enabled for him during confinement so that he can go there whenever he needs it, whether you are at home or not.
  • Ensures that you have high places: these animals seek to rest in higher areas to better control their environment and avoid being disturbed. For this reason, placing shelves or purchasing multi-story scrapers is more than recommended during confinement and, of course, after it..
  • Use pheromonesSynthetic pheromones are effective with dogs, but with cats they are even more effective. These substances provide these animals with a totally relaxed environment, which is exactly what they need..
  • Give him toys that keep him entertained: if your cat is one of those that can develop separation anxiety because during confinement he has become very attached to you, you should carry out the recommendations offered for dogs, such as the use of intelligence toys or food dispensers.

Foresight and learning to meet their needs is essential in both cats and dogs..

And the other pets?

Other domestic animals such as rabbits or guinea pigs have also been able to suffer stress or anxiety after having seen their routine modified once confinement began. During de-escalation, as animals are less emotionally dependent than dogs, for example, it is recommended to carry out the measures mentioned in cats, that is, cover all their needs, offer them a space or shelter where they can go to be alone and relaxed, have toys and respect their rhythm of adaptation.

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