Preparing Our Pups for Post-Pandemic Life
Preparing Our Pups for Post-Pandemic Life
At ADM, we care about the quality of life for pups and their humans everywhere, so we recently surveyed 2,000 dog owners to get some insight into the ups and downs of pandemic life with pups.
Preparing Our Pups for Post-Pandemic Life
It’s been a busy year for veterinarians. The stay-at-home life of the pandemic spurred both a nationwide surge in pet adoptions and a notable rise in pet healthcare visits. As a result, vets across the country have been booked out weeks in advance and have been working long hours to contend with their massive influx of new patients and countless appointments with animals afflicted with a range of ailments, from feeling itchy or nauseous to being anxious and overweight.
At ADM, we care about the quality of life for pups and their humans everywhere, so we recently surveyed 2,000 dog owners to get some insight into the ups and downs of pandemic life with pups. For most people, dog ownership in the midst of a tough and isolating year has been a rewarding and joyful experience — even when it brought challenges. And both new and seasoned dog owners alike are realizing unprecedented times fostered some undesirable behaviors and habits that now need to be rewired as the world returns to normal. Just like people, our dogs need to relearn (or, in some cases, start learning) how to properly socialize and maintain a healthy routine. To get guidance on how to prepare our pups and ourselves for this next phase of life, we partnered with Dr. Laria Herod, a veterinarian in the greater Phoenix, Ariz. Area. She shared the insights she gleaned from treating pups throughout the pandemic and offered up some expert advice.
Life in Lockdown Has Been Breeding Bad Habits
This year’s notable uptick in vet visits is due in part to people having ample opportunity to keep a close eye on their pets as they’ve been spending most of their time at home. Sixty-four percent of the dog owners surveyed by ADM said their attention to their dog’s wellness and development had increased over the last year — and of those people, 24% said it had “dramatically increased.” Subsequently, a lot of dog owners discovered problems they might otherwise have missed. More than half of all owners surveyed said their dog experienced health issues such as illness, allergies, dental problems, injuries and infections during the past year.
While it’s good that people have been doing a better job of staying on top of their dog’s health, this year’s pandemic-induced vigilance hasn’t always translated to better care. In fact, a lot of dogs have picked up some pretty unhealthy quarantine habits — right under the watchful eye of their owners. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of survey respondents said pandemic life has impacted their dog’s eating routine in some way. For most, the fallout has been irregular feeding schedules and an over-abundance of daily treats and snacks. This has led to an epidemic of expanding canine waistlines, as well as a rise in visits from dogs experiencing stomach issues, vomiting and pancreatitis episodes.
“We’ve been having a lot of issues with animals being way, way overweight,” said Dr. Laria Herod. “Looking at records, they were fine a year or year and a half ago, or they might have been borderline overweight... but now, they’ve gotten much worse. You have some that come in who can barely walk.”
Overweight or obese dogs are prone to serious health issues including arthritis, chronic kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, heart failure, high blood pressure, cancer and more.
Research has also shown that obesity can shorten the lifespan of certain dog breeds by as much as two and a half years. To keep your dog at a healthy weight, Dr. Herod says it’s critical to schedule regular exercise and maintain consistent mealtimes. She advises people to feed their dogs two meals at the same times every day (three if you have a puppy), in proportions that strictly adhere to the guidelines on the packaging.
Another trend that has emerged during the pandemic is an increase in the number of owners who are feeding their dogs homecooked meals. Thirty-one percent of survey respondents named homemade meals as one of the types of food they feed their dogs, and Dr. Herod says many of her clients have embraced the trend as well. She attributes the rising popularity to enthusiastic, homebound owners with plenty of time to dote on their beloved fur babies.
“Homemade diets have been huge,” she said. “Everybody is obsessed with their new baby and they want to cook for them, and do everything for them, so they’re feeding them things like ground turkey, chicken and rice, green beans and carrots, and they’re really proud of it. But they don’t realize that the food they’re making at home probably doesn’t have all the nutrition their dog should be getting. Homemade diets have their place in specific medical situations but should be advised and overseen by a veterinarian. Dogs have very specific nutrient needs and, ideally, should eat a diet of fortified food that has been looked over by scientists to make sure it has everything it should.”
Learning to Spend a Little More Time Apart
The opportunity to spend tons of quality time with our dogs has been one of the upsides of being home more often. The challenge is that our pups have become accustomed to constant companionship. As people start resuming normal activities, it may initially be traumatic for our devoted pandemic pals.
According to ADM’s recent survey, owners are most concerned about their dog experiencing behavior issues, health problems and separation anxiety as the world returns to normal and their pup spends more time at home alone. Those who are already leaving the house more often have noticed worrisome vocal behaviors, with 42% of survey respondents saying they have heard their dog crying and whining and 41% saying they have heard their dog barking.
Dr. Herod says separation anxiety on both sides is real and totally understandable, but before addressing the issue, it’s important to accurately pinpoint what’s happening.
“I like to have a conversation to clarify whether the separation anxiety is coming from the owner, because they are used to being with their dog, versus the pet actually having symptoms of separation anxiety — like if they’re whining or destroying things, or they’re soiling in the house and they don’t normally do that,” she said. “I ask owners what issues they’re noticing because a lot of the time, they aren’t actually seeing these kinds of problems, which means they are probably just projecting, and the dog is doing OK.”
She also recommends owners invest in a camera that lets them monitor their dog remotely, so they can see how their pooch is acting while they’re out.
“A lot of times it’s not nearly as bad as they think it is, so they feel better,” Dr. Herod said. “Once they can see their pets interacting in the house without them, a lot of the worries go away, and they realize that the separation anxiety they thought existed, doesn’t.”
For dogs who are exhibiting telltale signs of true separation anxiety, Dr. Herod says the best approach is to slowly wean them off of constant companionship. Practice leaving them alone for short periods of time and gradually start increasing the length of time you’re gone to allow your dog to adjust to extended periods of absence at a comfortable pace. If you’re going to be gone all day, Dr. Herod recommends hiring a dog walker or having someone check in on your pup, if possible. For severe cases, there are anti-anxiety medicines that can be administered, but those are typically reserved for dogs engaging in extremely destructive or harmful behavior.
Whether you are one of the many people who took the opportunity to bring a new fur-friend into your life or someone who suddenly found yourself spending way more time with your existing pooch, the transition back to normal will be a big adjustment for everyone. Dogs have played a big role in helping people cope with the isolation and stress of the pandemic, so we owe it to them to make post-pandemic life as pleasant as possible.
Our takeaway from Dr. Herod’s key insights: Establishing a consistent schedule, feeding your dog a balanced and nutritious diet of scientist-vetted food and enabling them to exercise and be active on a regular basis will ensure you both enjoy a healthy and happy relationship for many years to come.