Fuzzy, furry friends are filling our homes since the lockdowns due to cornoravirus began in early March.
Over the last two months, the numbers of people fostering cats and dogs have risen dramatically over the same period last year.
“About 40% of all of the shelter population in the country are in foster homes right now, and that represents a current reality of about 60 to 90,000 animals, which is huge,” said Julie Castle, chief executive officer for Best Friends Animal Society, which helped launch the no kill movement in the United States.
Those numbers are based on data gathered by 24PetWatch, a pet insurance company that provides a weekly snapshot of over 1,100 animal welfare organizations around the country.
Adoptions, while down due to the closing of shelters, may be starting to rise as well, Castle said, perhaps a result of people falling in love with their foster pets and giving them forever homes.
In the Best Friends no-kill shelter in Salt Lake City, 46% of foster applicants said they were interested in potentially adopting. If they follow through — and that attitude is replicated across the US and other countries where there’s been an uptick in fostering — it could be a huge win for homeless animals everywhere.
But if that doesn’t happen and people begin returning foster pets as they return to work, the impact on shelters already strapped by a lack of funds could be devastating.
“It’s going to put a lot of pressure on animal welfare groups and shelters, and they’re going to have to reach out to the community for support,” said Michelle Cole, who is the chief marketing and sales officer at Pethealth Inc., the parent company of 24PetWatch.
“This is also the typical fundraising period, and they haven’t been able to do that due to coronavirus,” she added. “So already a lot of them are experiencing more financial strain.”
Adoption agencies are sounding the alarm, trying to encourage people to understand the ramifications of returning fostered or adopted pets who may be undergoing some behavior change or separation anxiety as their owners return to work.
In the United Kingdom, one of the largest welfare charities, called Dogs Trust, has changed its 30-year-old slogan from “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas” to “A dog is for life, not just for lockdown.”
“Most of the shelter organizations are asking, ‘Why do you need to relinquish that pet? Can we give you support so that won’t ever be necessary?’ ” Montgomery said.
“Animal welfare organizations can be super creative and helpful in trying to solve those problems. We want to keep pets at home.”
If you find yourself in need of help with food or medicine for your pet, experts suggested calling a number of animal welfare groups and shelters in your area, as some may be more able to assist than others.
To also make sure that pet lovers continue to love and keep their pets, animal welfare organizations offer the following advice.
If you’ve already fostered a pet, you have likely taken into account the extra money you’ll need. If not, experts said, please stop and do so.
Vaccines, supplies like crates and litter boxes, vet appointments, heartworm and flea prevention, toys, food and pet-sitting costs can add up quickly to thousands of dollars each year, depending on the pet’s age and health status. Additional expenses, depending on the pet, include training and grooming.
There are ways to cut expenses, such as buying in bulk from pet supply or large warehouse stores, and many vets and shelters offer free or reduced spay and neuter surgeries.
You can reduce the need for vet and grooming costs if you brush your pet’s hair and teeth daily. Start very young, especially with cats.
Training and preventative supplies
If you’ve adopted a puppy, prepare to be calm and patient during potty training, and be sure to provide alternatives for teething so Fido doesn’t destroy your shoes and socks.
Obedience and behavioral training is well worth the investment in time and money, experts said. From potty training to teaching your pup to sit, stay, heel and behave, a well-trained dog is less likely to develop bad habits that irritate pet owners.
One of the biggest – potty accidents.
“Inappropriate elimination in dogs and cats can cause issues with the human-animal bond, and unfortunately it can sometimes end up in relinquishment of animals, either rehoming or return to shelters,” said veterinarian Dr. Meredith Montgomery, a clinical assistant professor of shelter medicine at the University of Florida.
“You should always check with your vet to make sure it’s not due to illness or infection,” she added. “If it keeps up, your vet can help with behavioral modification, potentially paired with pharmaceuticals, to help decrease anxiety.”
For their own safety — and that of our bird population — cats should be kept indoors, experts said.
Having an indoors-only feline companion also cuts down on vet expenses from fights and accidents.
That means having the right number of litter boxes — one more than the number of cats in the home. You must also clean them daily to keep your cat from urinating or defecating outside of the box.
Providing proper scratching posts and high perches can keep your cat from ruining furniture or climbing curtains, and experts have pointed to the success of clicker training to mold a cat’s behavior while young.
“Always praise them when they’re doing something right,” said Dr. John Howe, the president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
“It doesn’t do any good to get mad at the cat after the fact,” he said. “They have no idea what you’re mad about. So it’s always better in training to do positive feedback when they’re doing something right, and ignore them when doing something wrong.”
During Covid-19 social isolation, training has moved online. Be sure to look for videos and other tutorials which may also help with finances, too.
Exercise body and mind
Dog walking is excellent for our cardiovascular system, but those multiple walks are good for your pup’s health, too. Different breeds need different levels of exercise, so be sure to do your research.
Thankfully, it’s still possible to get outside during the age of coronavirus, but be sure to practice social distancing.
Just like dogs, cats need playtime too. A good “hunt” that ends in the catch and “kill” of a dangling feather or mouse right before feeding mimics behavior in the wild and will keep your house cat both physically and mentally stimulated.
A great way to exercise your dog or cat’s mind is to provide food or non-fattening treats in a puzzle or other interactive toy. The fun of figuring out how to get to that morsel can be quite mentally stimulating and satisfying. Just watch them “paw” themselves on the back once they’ve solved the mystery.
It can be hard to properly socialize a dog or cat during isolation from Covid-19, and this may well be one of the toughest areas of raising a pet during this time. Both species need to see and be around people other than you to lose their fear of strangers.
“Socialization is probably the most important thing, in my view, for getting a dog or a cat used to a new household and surroundings,” Howe said.
“It can still be done when they’re older, but really six to 12 weeks is really a critical time for making sure they get used to so many different activities,” Howe said, “such as walking, playing, petting, grooming, seeing other people, seeing other dogs and not being afraid of the vacuum cleaner.”
If you’ve been sheltering in a “bubble,” or a small group of friends and family, try to get each person to handle, pet and walk your pup to broaden his social circle. But it may not be a good idea to allow your dog to run up to others while out on a walk. If a fight were to break out, you may have to break the 6-foot social distancing rule to solve the issue.
Set up your kitty for success by making sure everyone in the family — especially children — handles your furry friend gently. No yelling or screaming, no eye poking or yanking of tails.
Instead, hug and snuggle your cat as much as possible, as young as possible. It’s even OK to pick them up and cuddle them like a baby — cats don’t have to be stuck-up by nature, especially if they are always petted and brushed when near their special people.
“If you can get your cat used to being groomed, combed, brushed, play with their feet a little bit, that’s really important, especially when they’re going to go to the veterinarian,” Howe said.”You don’t want cats that are fearful and don’t want to be touched, so grooming helps. That’s very soothing to cats.”
Use treats to get your kitty to come when called by name. And if at all possible, try to introduce a cat-friendly dog into their lives, as long as it can be done while observing proper social distancing.
Avoiding back-to-work separation anxiety
Imagine now the worst of the pandemic is over. You’re finally going back to work, and you’re thrilled. Your foster or adopted dog or cat may not be. Just imagine what it must be like for your pet to have you there all day and night and then suddenly, you’re gone!
To avoid any issues with separation anxiety, it’s best to prepare your dog or cat for your departure as soon as you first bring them home — by setting the same routine you will use when you go back to work. Just like little kids, animals thrive on routine.
“Getting up at the same time, eating at the same time, playing at the same time. That’s the key,” Howe said.
Using pet gates and crates is another suggestion, Howe added. If a dog is crate trained, it can be very soothing for them to go back to their own special place, he said. Again, start when your dog first comes home.
Get CNN Health's weekly newsletter
Sign up here to get The Results Are In with Dr. Sanjay Gupta every Tuesday from the CNN Health team.
“They’re safe, they’re comfortable and it’s an opportunity for them to practice independence in their own space,” Howe said. The use of baby and pet gates or barriers can also help keep pets and children separated, he added.
Try playing species-specific music for your pet before you go back to work and if they like it, keep it on while you’re gone. A study published in 2015 found that cats preferred such feline-favorite sounds such as chirping, purring and the sucking sound of nursing kittens, mixed in with some classical music strains. You and your cat can listen here, while Spotify and other websites provide playlists for dogs.
And keep up your quality playtime, just as you would with a child, Montgomery said.
“What may this look like? Ten to 30 minutes of play with a favorite wand toy, special brushing session, – if liked by your pet – a walk with your leashed dog or time spent with a favorite toy playing fetch or tug-of-war,” she said.
And if all else fails, don’t hesitate to reach out to your local animal welfare group or shelter or veterinarian, experts said.
“The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, ACVB, has a great website to find a veterinary behavioral expert that can do a consult with you,” said Dr. Dana Varble, the chief veterinary officer for the North American Veterinary Community.
“And some of those behaviorists are already set up to do via the phone or video.”