Chennai-based veterinarian Dr Priyadarshini Govind tells us how to boost their mood and navigate their housebound world
While every dog has its day, for over a year now, six-year-old Roger has not. The German Shepherd who loves long walks, used to sniff out interesting corners in his neighbourhood and quizzically cock his ears as he watched birds build nests. He now spends most of the pandemic watching clouds flit past from the apartment window. He has gained weight and is mostly bored — his new-found past-time is endlessly licking his paws.
“A number of dogs exhibit Obsessive Compulsive Behaviour such as incessant licking of paws, resulting in inflammation and wounds. They also develop an obsession with food due to the lack of anything else to keep them occupied,” says Chennai-based veterinarian Dr Priyadarshini Govind.
An alumna of Madras Veterinary College, where she pursued a Master’s in Surgery, Dr Priyadarshini also holds a postgraduate diploma in Behavioural Medicine from the University of Sydney and specialises in treating companion animals and pet birds.
Unlike the wild sheep in Wales that ran riot on the roads during the pandemic and the leopards roaming backyards in Bengal, pets have been housebound like their owners. Weight gain from lack of exercise has been a condition most veterinarians are seeing in pet animals.
“I haven’t heard of any Government restrictions to people walking their dogs, but pet parents have generally become lazy or probably are just too self-preserving due to the pandemic,” says Dr Priyadarshini, adding “Even in normal circumstances, some canine parents walks their dogs only under duress. The pandemic has become an excuse to not walk them at all. Dogs are intelligent animals and need a lot of activity to engage their mind and body to prevent unwanted behavioural patterns. While dogs enjoy the company of their humans, it is still important that they be kept occupied.”
While the problems are not breed-specific and affect both indie and foreign dogs, the pandemic has had a very different effect on cats.
“Cats are a fairly independent species who while they love their human companions value their time alone. They don’t constantly seek approval from their caregivers. With families staying in and people working from home it has resulted in stress-related disorders among cats such as feline lower urinary tract disease and excessive grooming.”
But given the stringent lockdown how can this be prevented? “For dogs, even an outing outside your gate or a run in the terrace helps. Also, over-use of strong disinfectants that result in skin-related contact dermatitis and foot issues should be avoided. Dogs and cats are genetically sensitive to disinfectants that are safe for humans. There are a number of pet-friendly options. We do know that the Coronavirus is airborne but there is no need for us to assume our animals are going to be bringing in infection because they go out for walks,” says Dr Priyadarshini.
On the number of people buying pets to stave off loneliness, Dr Priyadarshini comments, “It’s not a great idea. People bought puppies for thousands from breeders but they weren’t open to adopting a stray rescue or even a rescued pet of a person who had succumbed to the virus. You should be able to continue giving your pet the time and care even when things return to normal. Unless you are ready to do that it’s best not to get one.”
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