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Post-Pandemic Pet Behavioral Problems to Watch Out for, According to a Veterinary Behaviorist

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

In addition to physical health problems, it’s possible for pets to experience behavioral disorders, and one very common one—especially as we return to in-person work—is separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety is something that both cats and dogs can experience, and it is characterized by high levels of distress and anxiety that occur when pet parents leave their pets alone.

Common signs include vocalization—or barking and meowing—urinating or defecating outside of the litter box, and destructiveness. Like other behavioral problems, this disorder can be caused by similar reasons as in humans, from genetics to life experience to wellness. For instance, dogs can be more likely to exhibit separation anxiety if they are genetically predisposed to it, or if they’ve experienced rehoming or trauma in the past.

“Let’s say that you’re gone, and there’s a lightning strike, and it hits a pole nearby that causes everything to blow,” Dr. Lisa Radosta, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, said. “That can scare the life out of your dog or your cat and if you’re not home for that, it can be paired with your absence and lead to separation anxiety.”

If a pet parent suspects that their pet may have separation anxiety, Dr. Radosta also describes three common indicators to watch out for.

  1. First, as the pet parent is getting ready to leave the house, the pet should be settling down rather than getting more excited.

  2. The pet can also be monitored on camera while they’re away. Ideally they would be sleeping when their parent is not at home. On the other hand, pacing, panting, or meowing or howling, are all possible signs of a separation disorder.

  3. Finally, pay attention to what happens when the parent comes home, as another sign of separation anxiety may be excessive greetings, where a pet becomes overly excited when they’re back and isn’t able to calm down quickly.

To hear more about what a board-certified veterinary behaviorist does for pets, as well as the do's and don'ts for helping pets live their most joyful, healthiest lives, we encourage you to check out our new episode with Dr. Radosta on our Mella Moment podcast!

Many people adopted animals at the onset of the pandemic, and although this has been a great opportunity to bond with them while working from home, when we return to working in person, these pets will inevitably have to be alone longer than they might have ever experienced before. When this pandemic “normal” is disrupted, what kinds of behavioral problems might occur?

As pandemic restrictions ease, concerns of separation anxiety have become especially common for these “pandemic pets.” Experts recommend having a plan in place to ease the stress of leaving pets at home. This can include practicing departures early on to get them accustomed to being alone for longer and longer periods of time, or utilizing resources like pet daycares or hiring a dog walker.

Aggression, too, has been a concern for veterinary behaviorists. “We saw a lot of aggression, sadly, in puppies after Covid,” said Dr. Radosta, describing how puppies who didn’t get a chance to be exposed to the outside world during the pandemic have reacted to being brought outside into busier places with aggression and fear.

However, there are a multitude of resources available for better understanding the impacts of Covid on our pets, and for ensuring that they receive the best care possible.

“The take-home for me to tell every pet parent listening is that there’s always hope, and there’s an answer to every question,” said Dr. Radosta.

For her, pet health and wellness today means learning about “how pets communicate, what they need, and then try[ing] to fulfill that in their lives.”

References and related reading:

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