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Image showing two cats, Noodles and Bubs, and a beagle dog, Cash, in a collage against a pink background
Depression and anxiety can show in many ways in pets, such as loss of appetite or change in behaviour. Photos courtesy: Mannat Chawla, Harshad Barde

Mental Health

The Secret Struggles of Pets: How Your Return to Work May Affect Your Pet’s Mental Health

‘He stopped waiting for me at the door. It was like he didn’t care anymore.’

When Harshad Barde started going back to office a few months ago, it seemed like life was finally gaining some semblance of normalcy but not so much for his cats, Noodles and Bubs. “My partner and I adopted the cats last year and while we were home, it was great, they were super playful and would be around us all the time. But now, they don’t play as much and get irritated very easily,” said the 34-year-old waste management professional from Pune.

While we’ve been focusing more on our mental health since the start of the pandemic, we often forget that the discourse also extends to our furry friends. Our pets, too, face mental health challenges due to a host of reasons, and similarly, require support.

Anxiety in animals is a lot more common than we think. We see dogs and cats with anxiety due to separation from their mothers or due to traumatic events, like being handled by breeders,” Dr. Shantanu Kalambi, a veterinarian, told Re:Set.

According to Dr. Suranjana Ganguly, a veterinarian from Mysore, depression and anxiety can manifest in many ways in dogs and cats, such as loss of appetite or change in behavioural patterns.

Image showing Cash, the four-year-old beagle sitting on a couch, with text next to him that reads: "Cash doesn’t come to greet me in the morning like he used to. He now just spends time in his own bed and doesn’t see me off anymore,” - Mannat Chawla, Media Professional

As the world reopens, our pets may start feeling isolated at home.

“Depending on the age of the animal, we see their mental health challenges show in different ways. For example, when puppies get anxious they tend to whine a lot, be a lot more vocal and aggressive, and will lick their feet a lot. But in adult dogs, they tend to not eat, they show very repetitive behaviour, and tend to get overly attached to their parents,” she said. Ganguly adds that for cats, one can tell if they’re anxious or depressed if they indulge in overgrooming or display uncharacteristic behaviour, such as peeing in places they know they’re not supposed to.

The pandemic was hard on our collective mental health, but now as we get vaccinated and the world reopens, our pets may be experiencing a different kind of shift that may affect their mental health.

“I first noticed a change in Cash’s behaviour, when it was the third or fourth day of my return to office in July,” Mannat Chawla, a media professional and parent to the four-year-old beagle, told Re:Set. “He would keep sitting and waiting at the door for me to return, wondering where I was going. Soon, he stopped doing that and started spending more time with another family member. It was like he didn’t care anymore.”

Chawla notes that Cash now spends even less time with her, often attaching himself to someone else at home, even when she’s around. “He doesn’t come to greet me in the morning like he used to. He now just spends time in his own bed and doesn’t see me off anymore,” she said.

The acting out and mental health impact is something that can be addressed and managed.

For Barde’s cats, the upending of their routine has led to drastic changes in their behaviour. “The level of destruction, with them scratching the furniture or knocking over things, has also increased,” he said, adding that both his cats started eating a lot more, too.

There is hope, however. The acting out and mental health impact is something that can be addressed and managed, says Ganguly. She suggests visiting the vet or a pet behaviourist to address the problems your animals may be facing, to rule out any medical causes and to get clarity on the way forward.

“There can be specific triggers that need to be addressed, so definitely seek professional help, because each animal is different. Look out for signs of stress or unusual behaviour when you’re going out or coming back home,” Ganguly said. Barde similarly noted the stress points and after discussing it with his vet, started carving out time specially for Noodles and Bubs so as to make them more loved and attended to, just like they did before.


Also read: How to Deal With the Grief of Losing Someone to COVID-19 When the World Seems to Be Moving On


 

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The Secret Struggles of Pets: How Your Return to Work May Affect Your Pet’s Mental Health