If you thought the pandemic was hard on us, you should see what’s it doing to our pets. Cats are getting sick and tired of owners in lockdown, and increasing numbers of them are starting to revolt. If you thought your cat was enjoying your constant attention, think again. They might have appreciated having you all to themselves at the start of lockdown, but almost 12 months down the line, that warm, fuzzy feeling has been replaced by something a lot less cozy.
Cats Have Had Enough
Naturally enough, our inability to spend time with friends and family in lockdown has meant we’re lavishing all our affections on our domesticated buddies. While it’s doing our mental health the world of good, the same can’t be said for them. Obviously, some pets are lapping up the extra loving. Many dogs in particular can’t get enough of their owner’s time. But for others, all that extra petting is starting to lose its appeal.
When they want to nap, we’re there prodding them with a toy. When they want to stretch out on the kitchen surfaces in a way they really shouldn’t, we’re there to tell them no. When they want to scratch a new hole in the sofa, we’re there to move them swiftly away. Basically, we’re there all the time. And it’s annoying. Really, really annoying. So annoying, in fact, it’s pushing some pets to aggression. Others are resorting to anti-anxiety meds. Worse still, there’s no end in sight. With the pandemic still rumbling on, more and more pets are starting to kick back against the enforced one-on-one time with their owners.
“Obviously, pet owners have been happy to have their animals with them; it’s kept them from being alone,” animal behaviorist Dr. Emmanuelle Titeux explains to VICE. “But if pets had been able to respond, some of them would have said, ‘All day long, I have to put up with this stupid meathead who won’t quit poking me. I can’t take it anymore.’”
A Growing Problem
Dr. Titeux clearly isn’t the only one to think there’s a problem. According to VOX (www.vox.com/the-highlight/2020/4/24/21231806/coronavirus-pets-covid-19-cats-dogs), pet owners are reporting some very strange behavior in their furry friends. Old habits are being dropped and new ones are being adopted. Some are getting weirdly clingy; others are hiding in corners and shooting suspicious looks at their owners. Hissing and growling have become the backdrop to our lives. Previously independent cats are smothering us with affection, while formerly loving ones want nothing to do with us.
“Just like people, pets can respond with a wide variability to any change,” M. Leanne Lilly, a professor of veterinary behavioral medicine at Ohio State University, says. According to Lilly, some pets are loving the constant attention they’re getting from their housebound owners. Others have barely registered the change in our routines, and even if they did, they wouldn’t give a hoot either way. Yet others are finding the new normal a major source of stress.
What Does it Mean
At the moment, it’s too early in the day to slap a label on what all these new feline behaviors mean. It could simply be that, now we’re home all day, we’re picking up on habits and personality quirks that have been there all the time, but that until now, we’ve been too busy to notice. On the other hand, all that craziness could be down to something known as ‘displacement behavior’. It’s a grand-sounding term, but it essentially describes those little tics that pets (and people) adopt to help them cope with new situations. Whereas we might twirl on our hair or chew on our fingernails when we feel stressed, cats might start vocalizing more, pacing back and forth, overgrooming, yawning excessively, or scratching.
Why Are They So Stressed?
If cats are starting to display displacement behaviors, then it begs the question of what they’ve got to be stressed about. We might be living through some pretty turbulent times right now, but it’s not like our pets are waking up with the cold sweats at 3 am in the morning. The economy is doing just fine as far as they’re concerned. And as for the pandemic… what pandemic? But whether we’re aware of it or not, the disruptions caused to our routines by the lockdown have had a knock-on effect on our pet’s routines. Now we’re home all day, we’re less rigid about when we feed our cats, when we play with them, and when we leave them to nap. This ‘anything goes’ routine might be ok for us, but it’s another thing entirely for our feline friends.
Cats like structure. They like to know when they’re going to be fed, when they’re going to play, and when they’re going to get some alone time. If that structure got kicked to the curb the moment lockdown started, they’re probably feeling pretty adrift right about now. There’s also our own stress to consider. Cats might have a reputation as aloof and prickly, but as a 2019 study published in Plos One highlighted, they’re actually as capable of emotional contagion as dogs. If you’re stressed (and at this point, it’d be a wonder if you’re not), your cat has probably picked up on it and is feeling heightened anxiety as a result.
How to Tackle the Problem
As the pandemic continues to keep us locked in our homes, finding a way to manage the disruption on our pets is key to ensuring their sanity (not to mention our own). As cats thrive on routine, animal experts recommend sticking to a ‘business as usual’ approach to daily life. If they’re used to being fed at certain times, keep to the schedule. Try to avoid overcrowding them or forcing them to play or cuddle when they’d rather be left alone. If you get bored, don’t rely on your pet to entertain you. Trying to teach them a new trick every day or dressing them up in doll’s clothes will push their patience to breaking point. The more order and predictability you can bring back to their lives, the happier they’ll be.