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Animals may suffer from separation anxiety when people return to work

Canadians have been experiencing some health problems, such as stress and anxiety since the beginning of the pandemic. To deal with that, some decided to bring home a pet—fulfilling that old dream they never had the time to put into practice. Working from home with kids and pets can be hard but returning to the old office can bring a bittersweet feeling to owners and pets.

Animals may suffer from separation-temacapa-mileniostadium
Alyssa Lima in Beattie Animal Hospital. Photo: Alyssa Lima


Alyssa Lima is a veterinarian at Beattie Animal Hospital in Brantford who believes that with these new changes, animals may suffer from separation anxiety because they got used to having a constant human companion at home during the pandemic. However, on the other side, the owners can experience the same problem. With the pandemic some people stopped walking their dogs because they were afraid that the animal could get sick and infect the family at home. The World Health Organization underlines that pets can’t transmit the COVID-19 to humans –  despite this, some pet owners around the world have started putting masks on their furry friends. Milénio Stadium asked Alyssa Lima for her opinion on this and she said that it would be hard for a pet to tolerate wearing a mask if use became mandatory.

Beattie Animal Hospital in Brantford never closed during pandemic but like most of the businesses in Ontario, they are operating under new guidelines. The wait times can be longer than usual but it’s all for a good reason—to ensure that pets and owners stay safe and healthy. Alyssa recommends booking vaccines and health appointments in advance, but pet emergencies are accepted anytime the clinic is open.

Milénio Stadium: During the pandemic, some people working at home decided to get a pet but now economy is reopening, and many workers have returned to office. What are the advantages of having an animal at home during this unprecedent time? How will the animals feel now when the owners don’t spend so much time at home?

Alyssa Lima: The benefits of having a pet as part of a household have long been studied and shown a strong positive influence on owners. Having a pet increases the owners exercise, their feelings of comfort due to routine of taking care of a pet and provides excellent human animal bond which has health benefits especially with teaching empathy to children and helping in dementia with elderly owners. There will certainly be a shift when people start going back to work and that disruption in routine will have a short-term effect on animals, specifically dogs. Dogs may suffer from separation anxiety while they adjust to no longer having a constant human companion at home. Owners in turn may worry more that their animals are left home unsupervised for longer periods of time and this may cause anxiety in a human.

MS: Some people stopped walking their dogs. What are the risks if the animals stop going outside and interact with other animals?

AL: The physical benefits of walking a dog are not only healthy for the animal but for the owners too. Walking a dog ensures that both the owner and animal are exercising, keeping a healthy body condition and studies have shown that exercise increases endorphins in humans which promote overall good mental health. When these walks are reduced, we can find an increase in depression among people, and an increase in behaviour issues in the dog. If there are less walks, there is more built up energy in the dog, and they may turn that behaviour into destructive habits in an attempt to entertain themselves. Additionally, if an animal is not being socialized anymore, as it was when it was on its walk, it may start to become anxious around new people, loud noises or other dogs.

MS: Obesity in humans became a problem with the pandemic. How about animals?

AL: Obesity in dogs can definitely be a result of reduced exercise, especially if the food intake is not modified accordingly. Cats can also show a rise in obesity if their owners are no longer home during the pandemic to play with them and keep them active.

MS: Did your clinic close during pandemic? What are the new guidelines to veterinary clinics operate?

AL: We were fortunate enough at our clinic to still be able to safely provide essential care to pets. We made the decision to stay open because regardless of a pandemic, animals still need care, and owners need to have peace of mind in these uncertain times, that their furry family members will be taken care of. We do however have additional precautions in place that myself, the clinic owner, and our general manager put into place to keep our staff and our clients safe. These precautions include limiting only one owner to come into the exam room for the appointment, everyone must be wearing a mask, owners are taken directly into a cleaned room instead of waiting around in the reception area , and a lot of our payments are done online or with the use of credit card over the phone. These extra precautions do take extra time, so wait times may be longer than normal. Because people are finally starting to get back into work, they are also coming into the clinic more regularly and our days are very full. We highly recommend booking vaccines and healthy appointments well in advance, but we do always leave room in our day to see sick pets or emergency appointments.

MS: According to the World Health Organization, several dogs and cats in contact with infected humans have tested positive for COVID-19. However, the WHO says that there is no evidence that these animals can transmit the disease to humans and spread COVID-19. As a veterinarian, do you answer to these types of questions daily? Are people still scared?

AL: These are excellent questions that the public has been asking veterinarians, especially since there is new information coming out every day. We find that at the start of the pandemic, we were answering these questions a lot, but in the last few weeks there seems to be less worry and less people seem scared. The animals that were tested positive for COVID-19 came from households where a human was actively infected, therefore the virus was present in high numbers. The virus particles are present in the environment and they land on the pet. Animals themselves cannot get sick from COVID-19, and they are not considered transmitters of the disease to humans.

MS: Are the COVID-19 symptoms the same in humans and animals?

AL: While dogs do carry a strain of “Coronavirus”, it is a completely different illness. The canine coronavirus effects the gastrointestinal tract, not the respiratory system the way that COVID -19 does.

MS: Does it make sense for a pet to wear a mask? Are they already available in Canada?

AL: Currently there is no evidence that a pet would benefit from a mask. I also do not think it would be practical for an animal to wear one. I would also be interested in seeing any cat tolerate a mask on their face.

MS: Some people like to take their pets on vacations. Is there any specific advice for traveling with pets?

AL: Most travel has been extremely limited and thus I do not think that animals will be traveling much. In order to enter into the USA, dogs and cats still just require their rabies vaccination to cross the border. I do not foresee an animal COVID-19 vaccine being needed for travel in the future.

MS: A lack of resources during the pandemic forced hospitals to cancel some surgeries and exams. No country was prepared to deal with a pandemic—we’ve heard this sentence many times. How prepared were the veterinary clinics?

AL: Veterinary medicine is unique in the sense that we are used to dealing with many infectious diseases, so extra precautions to protect ourselves from transmission is not a new concept to us. We certainly had a reduction in the personal protection equipment as many of those resources were being allocated to human health system, however, we have been able to get enough supplies to keep us safe. One of the major changes veterinary clinics are adopting is a process called “curb side” appointments, where the owners stay in their cars and our veterinary staff brings the pet into the clinic and all examinations and vaccinations are performed in our treatment rooms without the owners presence. A veterinarian will then phone the owner and discuss the exam and concerns. This is to limit the number of people in a clinic at a time. Due to all the extra steps involved, an appointment may take longer than usual, therefore, we are all asking that everyone have patience with their veterinary staff while we remain open to helping your pet.

Joana Leal/MS

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