What We Learned About Pet Care in 2020


As we reflect on 2020 and what has happened during this tumultuous year, it’s time to take stock of what we learned regarding pet care. Many of us had to change our routines that we’ve happily been doing (or not!) for years—wake up, make coffee, take the dog for a walk, shower, and commute to work. On the way home, we stop at the store for a quick few ingredients for dinner, grab the kids from school, ask about homework, and settle in for the night. Our pets love routine and having us home, so this was a banner year for our fur babies. As we crawl towards the finish line, however, more people are at home once again and are feeling the pandemic pinch. The cat is now fighting with the dog, and the dog is starting to show less enthusiasm for all those extra walks as we fight the quarantine 15.

Despite the year’s many bumps in the road, we learned a lot, which extends to what we understand about our pets. Let’s look back at 2020 and what we’ve taken away from this rollercoaster year.

1. Can my pet get COVID 19?

2020 seems to have been The Year of the Tiger, as not only did the train wreck of a show, Tiger King, take the world by storm, but many were shocked and frightened by the news that a big cat had been diagnosed with COVID-19 at the Bronx Zoo. Since then, there have been reports that animals can, indeed, test positive for COVID-19, but there isn’t any definitive answer on whether they can pass the virus to humans or other animals. Although most consider it unlikely, the CDC still recommends using caution when interacting with pets outside your household. The Coronavirus that dogs are vaccinated for is not the same as COVID-19. Some veterinarians offer COVID-19 tests for pets.

What we have learned about COVID-19 and our pets:

  • Make arrangements for someone to care for your pet if you are unable to
  • Have all their vaccination records and medications accessible
  • There are other viruses your pets can catch; talk with your veterinarian about prevention
  • The best source of truth is your veterinarian or the CDC

2. Is now a good time to get a pet?

With so many people working and having school at home, adding a new pet to the family is beneficial. Having a pet will remind you to get up and go for a walk to exercise and take a mental break. The added time in front of the computer has increased—taking a break to cuddle a cat for 15 minutes can give your eyes a rest and reduce headaches. The National Headache Foundation is recommending taking frequent breaks throughout the day to alleviate eye strain.

If you don’t want to commit to the lifetime of a cat or dog, there are a few options:

  • Be a foster for a rescue or shelter, as the commitment length can be as short as a few weeks or months
  • Pet-sit either for your neighbors or use app services that connect pet owners to people that offer pet sitting services
  • Get a fish tank; you don’t have to be an expert or a large space to have a tank! Pocket pets, hamsters, or guinea pigs are an excellent alternative to a dog or cat

Your local veterinarian may have some ideas for alternative pets—just search “exotic veterinarian near me.”

3. What do I need to know if I need to take my pet to the veterinarian?

Along with just about every other industry this year, the veterinary field got a major overhaul based on the pandemic. You might be wondering if you can take your pet to the veterinarian, especially now that there seems to be another pandemic surge.

First off, don’t delay. Make an appointment as soon as you notice anything outside the ordinary in your cat or dog. Some veterinary hospitals are booked out for days or even weeks. If it needs to be taken care of before you can get in for an appointment, your veterinarian can advise you of alternative options. If you know your pet is due for routine care, expect to make the appointment a month or more in advance.

Before you go to a veterinarian right now:

  • Check the day before if there is any critical information you need to know
  • Go early, or at least don’t be late, as some hospitals may not be able to accommodate late arrivals
  • Have all your paperwork completed and copies of any previous veterinary records
  • Have your phone readily available, and don’t forget to have your ringer on; your phone is your source of communication during curbside services.
  • Don’t be in a rush; there are many safeguards in place for you and the veterinary staff; these will increase the time of the appointment and be patient
  • If you have questions, ask—ether look on the veterinary hospital’s website or call for clarification
  • Know that hospitals are having an increase in calls; you may be on hold for longer than usual.

Please be aware that your veterinarian may be short-staffed or unusually busy due to unpreventable circumstances. We all are working hard to continue to provide the best care to every pet that comes in. Your understanding and compassion are much appreciated.

4. How is the pet relationship changing?

There has been a noticeable difference in pet ownership in the last 10+ years. We went from pet owners to pet parents. Pets are a pivotal part of our families, and we involve them in our lives more and more. The last year has served to increase this bond further. We are spending more time with them due to being at home more often. We are using them to get outside and break up the day, which is a benefit to both pet and pet parent. Some of us have even noticed that our pets could use a refresher on their manners, and pet trick videos on social media have served as a reminder to do some pet training. Whatever the reason, the more interaction you and your family have with your pets, the more you will reap the benefits.

Even more so than in the past, pets have provided us some much-needed comic relief. We’ve all seen the hilarious memes with captions about replacing pets with co-workers: “My coworker is snoring during my zoom meeting.” Pets help us not to take everything so seriously so that we slow down and sniff the bushes for the “pee-mail”.

By way of a reminder, if you are taking your pet out to new places, make sure that they are current on their vaccinations and ask your veterinarian what they might recommend for prevention changes. They also may have a few ideas for local spots that would be great to go to.

5. Can cats get separation anxiety, and is this condition serious in both cats and dogs?

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that dogs and cats can have severe separation anxiety, mainly if owners have been home with them for a relatively long period, and then that schedule changes–just as it did when the COVID-19 restrictions eased around summertime. Pet owners hadn’t considered how the sudden shift in schedule might affect their fur babies. And while dogs are known to have separation anxiety, cats can fall victim to this as well.

Some symptoms of separation anxiety in cats are as follows:

  • Elimination outside the litter box
  • Self-grooming to the point of excess
  • Vomiting
  • Destructive behavior that appears to be purposeful as opposed to playful
  • Lack of appetite
  • Eating too quickly
  • Not eating when you’re at home
  • Excessive vocalization, such as meowing, moaning, or crying
  • Scratching on doors

As veterinarians, we want cat owners to understand that, while felines tend to have a reputation for being more aloof and independent, they can, indeed, get separation anxiety. And if you were home for a long time during quarantine periods but then had to return to work, we want you to be aware of what to look for in your cat.

You might be more familiar with the signs of separation anxiety in dogs, some of which, according to the ASPCA, are as follows:

  • Urinating or defecating inside the home, with or without Coprophagia (the dog consumes the excrement)
  • Pacing
  • Digging, chewing, or other destructive behavior
  • Barking and howling
  • Escaping or trying to escape the home repeatedly

As veterinarians, our advice on soothing this separation anxiety in pets is to ease them into the transition. Instead of suddenly changing your schedule, take the time to give them alone time each day before going back to work. Whether you force yourself to run errands or you put your pet in a crate where they can’t see you, take the time to give them alone time each day so they’re not thrown into it suddenly when your schedule changes. Consider leaving items that smell like you around the house and/or inside their crate.

As you’ve likely read or heard about on the news, a pleasant side effect from the pandemic of 2020 is that many families decided to adopt cats and dogs during their quarantine periods. There were periods in which shelters were completely cleared. An unfortunate turn of events from this fantastic news that we saw as veterinarians is that newly adopted dogs or puppies were biting more. They were not socialized outside the home with anyone other than their owners. Veterinarians and vet techs have been bitten more, as their dogs weren’t used to being poked or prodded or generally even touched by anyone outside their immediate families. Many dog owners don’t realize the importance of teaching a dog or pup the importance of having a soft mouth – during play or otherwise – as one of the first things they learn.

6. Are pets prone to the Coronavirus 15?

Well, maybe (hopefully!) not 15 pounds but, much like with humans during this pandemic, we have seen a rise in pet obesity this year, which is disconcerting to us as veterinarians. That’s because pet obesity can lead to other illnesses, such as heart issues and arthritis, and it can also affect the longevity of your pet’s life.

As Veterinary Practice News notes, “This is according to BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital, which recently launched an investigation into the prevalence of pet obesity in the U.S. The group, which operates more than 90 veterinary practices in 26 states, found a 24 percent increase in the number of overweight dogs treated at its clinics over the last seven years. Further, in 2020, 52 percent of dogs treated and 56 percent of cats were overweight.”

We know that you don’t need one more thing on your plate this year, but it’s something that simple awareness can help. Be more mindful about how much you are feeding pets at mealtimes, how many treats you are giving them, and how much exercise they are getting. If you have an indoor cat, you can still keep them active and stimulated with cat toys, puzzles, and cat trees. Have you been more lenient about human table scraps? Start by eliminating that.

Some other quick tips on keeping your pet from becoming obese are:

  • Get regular exercise
  • Avoid free feeding – pick food up when your pet walks away
  • Limit treats to less than 10% of the pet’s diet
  • Don’t “eyeball” the food amounts – measure and feed the amount recommended by your veterinarian based on breed and size
  • Make them work for treats with fun things like interactive treat puzzles

We know that this year has been challenging in more ways than one. We hope that you and your pets are happy and healthy and that everything that we have learned from 2020 will make for a bright and beautiful 2021! If you have any questions about how veterinary care is working these days or how you can keep your pets healthy in the face of recent challenges, please give us a call.