Animal Doctor: Companion animal behavior changes during pandemic | Health, Medicine & Fitness

Dear Dr. Fox: We have noticed a change in our pets’ behavior during this “stay at home” period and have talked to others who say the same. Our cat is more vocal and always wants to be near us; whereas prior to this time, he tended to be more independent.

Are there any studies being done or explanations for this change in behavior? — P.K., Danbury, Connecticut

Dear P.K.: Yes indeed, some readers like you have noted changes in their cats’ and dogs’ behavior during the pandemic lockdown. I would like to hear from other readers about how their animal companions are responding to people being at home all day — especially the children who would normally be at school. Some cats may miss their solitude and go find a quiet space in the home, while others, like yours, become more sociable. Many dogs are enjoying longer and more frequent walks and jogs.

But I have two fears: First, that pets are being given more treats during this time — just as some people are eating more snacks and watching more TV. All things in moderation!

My second concern is that when people get back to working out of the home, and children are back at school, many animals will miss the stimulation and may develop separation anxiety. Hiring a pet sitter or dog walker once people get out again may help animals adjust to being alone most of the day. Check out Pet Sitters International ( to find such help in your area.

There are also many dogs and cats who were adopted from shelters at the beginning of the pandemic shutdown. Some of these new pet owners are well-intentioned but ill-prepared — in terms of knowing how to care for their animals properly and also in terms of finances — so many animals may be returned to shelters or abandoned.

John Howe, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, has stated that pets might be overwhelmed by the extra attention as people stay home during the pandemic and that they need a place where they can be left alone — particularly in homes with small children.

“It can be overwhelming for pets when kids are home all the time, especially infants and toddlers. Which is why they should never be left alone with the pet, not even for 30 seconds,” Howe said, adding that “even the nicest dog in the world can bite.”

And in some homes, the proximity and confinement of family members can become emotionally stressful, leading to verbal abuse and physical violence — which can make animals, as well as children, fearful and insecure.

Crises can bring out the best and the worst of human nature. Getting out and walking the dog or reading some good poetry aloud — which my wife, Deanna, does every evening, and which our dog Kota seems to enjoy — can be the best medicine for all concerned!

SARS-COV-2 detected in mink on Dutch farms: Two farms in the Netherlands were quarantined in April after mink that were having trouble breathing tested positive for infection with the coronavirus. The animals were thought to have been infected by an employee who had COVID-19. Although experts said it was unlikely the animals themselves could spread the virus, movement of the animals and their manure has been halted, and people must stay away from the properties.

Dear Dr. Fox: I’m writing to you regarding the recent letter from B.T. in New Carlisle, Indiana, who outlined the symptoms their 19-year-old cat was experiencing: loss of vision and crying through the night. My cat had the same symptoms at age 15 (she has since passed at age 18). My vet suggested several Chinese herbal remedies, which had no effect.

A vet student interning in the office suggested taking the cat’s blood pressure, which they did in the tail, using a pediatric cuff. It turned out that my cat had extremely high blood pressure, for which they prescribed a medication. The nightly crying ceased, but she never regained her eyesight. She adapted to the loss of vision remarkably well. We bought a pet stair, which she learned to use, resuming her nightly snuggle on the bed with us. — C.C., West Palm Beach, Florida

Dear C.C.: Many thanks for sharing. This underscores the importance of annual wellness examinations, which some veterinarians will conduct in-home with an assistant. This costs more, but can be worth every penny. We owe our animal companions and family members no less!

As cats get older, they often have dental problems that can lead to damage to the kidneys, pancreas and other organs. Dental problems are very often due to the wrong kind of foods, notably a dry-kibble-only diet that leads to tartar buildup and subsequent infection and inflammation.

Blood pressure checks are becoming part of the wellness examination protocol, since this problem can lead to blindness and strokes in cats if not diagnosed and treated.

I was shocked to learn from one reader recently that an incomplete wellness exam was given to her dog, who had been taken in for loss of appetite and was treated for pancreatitis. The examination was incomplete because a routine fecal sample was not taken to check for internal parasites. This was later found to be the issue, when the dog did not respond to the prescribed treatment for misdiagnosed pancreatitis.

Mistakes become more frequent when basic clinical diagnostic protocols are not strictly adhered to.

Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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