In March, our lives were thrown a major curveball with COVID-19. No school. No day care. No summer camps. Working from home, if you are working at all, is hard because of all the interruptions. People feel like they are losing control. There are many complaints on social media about how chaotic households have become. Over the past months I have seen increased concerns about pets not eating well. This has coincided with COVID-19 shutdowns. Now, there are medical reasons why pets may be reluctant to eat. Please, rule these out. However, there are environmental causes as well. Environmental changes affect behavior. How has our pets’ environment changed? Have these changes overlapped mealtimes?
Imagine having to eat at the same place every day. You are OK with it. In the past, staff put your food down and generally left you alone. They may walk past, but they are doing other things. You get to eat in peace. Not anymore. Now the waitstaff hovers around you like flies. Children are playing in your dining area. They are loud, they bump into you. People yell at them but do nothing meaningful to stop the child’s actions. You stress and begin eating slower. Now the staff starts encouraging you to eat. This annoys you even more. You leave your food and walk away. You wait until it is quieter and sneak a bite. The moment you hear a person nearing the room, you scoot out. Finally, your stress is enough that you cannot eat. This is what is happening to many of our pets. How serious can this become?
The first cat, a lovely Persian, my husband and I adopted had been through multiple homes with her brother. In their last placement a young child repeatedly harassed the cats as they ate. The cats stopped eating. Sadly by the time the family decided something was wrong, the male was in organ failure. The female was 50% of her normal body weight. The cats were returned to the rescue. The male did not make it. The volunteers were force-feeding the girl. I convinced the rescue to let me adopt her. We gave Whisper a quiet room with plenty of places to hide. I placed bowls of different foods in secluded spots in her room. It took Whisper two days to realize no one would attack her while she ate or grab her and syringe food down her throat. Yes, it can get this bad for some animals.
Now, back to how our lives have changed due to COVID-19 and worries some pets are not eating. Are your pets able to eat in peace? Are they getting the needed quiet time all pets and people should have? Maybe not as much as you think. So, what can we do to help change things at mealtimes for our pets?
Provide a low-stress place where your pets will eat. A crate in an active family room is not quiet nor is placing food bowls in the kitchen if this is a busy room. Leave your pets alone as they eat. Constant checking in and hovering over them is stressing. Make sure throughout the day, your pets have places to escape and rest undisturbed. My cats have dog-free zones. My dogs have places they can go chill. My children were raised understanding the need for down time for critters and them. It makes a difference.
If you are concerned your pet is not eating well, rule out medical. Then, look at what environmental changes you can make to get mealtimes peaceful again.