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5 ways to help your pets deal with lockdown

If you think you’re feeling stressed about being cooped up all day, just imagine what your pooch is going through. Nowhere to run to, like, literally. Pets are taking strain right now, but these suggestions could help you to ease them through this tricky time.

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When it comes to exercise…

We all wish we could leave the house, but no one more so than your dog, who doesn’t understand why no one is calling ‘walkies’. Try these options to keep him moving.

  • If you’re lucky enough to have a treadmill at home, run it at a slow setting, put your dog on a lead, and take him for a (supervised) stroll
  • Get in a few play sessions every day. This applies for both dogs and cats. A 30-minute slot is advisable, preferably twice a day. A laser pointer is a great way to entertain cats, but they will be equally receptive to a simple toy made with string and a ball of paper. And that chewed up old tennis ball that Pepper keeps dropping at your feet? Now is the time to engage
  • Use things you probably have lying around the house (boxes, benches, that baby tunnel you thought you’d never need again), to create a simple obstacle course in your garden or apartment. Start with an easy route, and reward achievements with tiny treats. Use it as an opportunity to reinforce basic training like ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ instructions
  • Learn how to Doga – do yoga with your dog. There are excellent tutorials for beginners online
  • How about giving Rex a massage? Turn a belly rub into a proper rub down with tips you can find here
  • If you are a frontline worker and have even less time to play with or exercise your dog right now, check if there is a pet facility in your area that is listed as an essential service during lockdown. The pet hotel and day-care centre @frits in Cape Town, for instance, has permission to exercise animals on their playground.

When it comes to food…

No doubt we are all going to emerge from isolation a little fuller around the middle, and pets are no different. With less room to roam and walking restricted, they are also not getting as much exercise as they need.

  • Don’t make the mistake of overfeeding them. Portion control is everything, for humans as well as pets
  • Don’t overdo the treats. Especially not human food like cheese and sausage! If you plump up your pet over this time, you could expose him to the risk of diabetes or a heart condition

When it comes to stimulation…

If dogs are bored all the time, you may end up dealing with behavioural issues, such as chewing of furniture, digging holes in the garden or incessant barking. Keep your pets perky with these simple ideas.

  • Consider getting a slow-release dog food bowl. It holds the same amount of food, but takes the dog longer to get it out and keeps him occupied and entertained
  • Similarly, hiding food inside an egg carton, or an old chewed-up ball, will keep your dog entertained for longer over breakfast and dinner
  • Take the time to teach an old dog new tricks. Want Fluffy to sit, lie down, and roll over? Set up a short training session each day, give small treats as a reward, and by the end of lockdown, you may just have her doing exactly as you say
  • The Cape of Good Hope SPCA is posting videos developed by their animal behaviourist on their Facebook page with great tips for keeping dogs stimulated, so take a gander
  • Download an app to give your grumpy cat something to meow about. Games for Cats encourages felines to catch fish, chase mice, and catch birds by swiping at the screen

When it comes to health...

It’s important not to neglect your pet’s health. Keep their vaccinations up to date, regardless of how far they are wandering.

  • Vets are essential services, so if you can make a turn past your local, keep up with boosters and check-ups. There’s no point in skirting COVID-19 only to contend with a parvo or distemper outbreak
  • Don’t neglect deworming and flea treatments. With the kids around more, you want to make sure the whole family stays healthy
  • Check on your cats more frequently, and maybe even encourage them to stay indoors at night. There have been several reports of cats wandering further at night because the roads aren’t as busy, and a commensurate increase in posts about missing cats

When it comes to anxiety…

The biggest change your pet is experiencing right now is the change to his home environment. Cats are wondering when the heck they’ll have the place to themselves again, and dogs are confused as to why there are so many people in every room. Pets are sensitive to human stress levels, and this can manifest anxiety of their own.

  • It’s important that your home environment is not stressed. Relaxed humans mean relaxed pets
  • If your pet is really not coping and displaying clear signs of anxiety, there are medical options that can help soothe frayed nerves. Feliway collars and diffusers (best for small spaces) give off pheromones that calm distressed felines. Over-the-counter Calmeze is available in tablet form for nervous dogs, and in a gel for edgy cats
  • While your cat may be only too glad to see the back of you when isolation ends, your dog is likely to be sad that he’s no longer bonding with his bestie. Run your dogs to exhaustion as soon as you can, it’s a great way of managing separation anxiety

If you have more serious concerns about your pet, call your local vet. Operating hours may differ under the current circumstances.

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