• Drs. Frans, Bianca, Danielle & Rene

COVID-19 Stress Syndrome in Pets

Updated: May 1, 2020

All of us have been affected in some way or another by the current Corona pandemic and unfortunately, it’s not only us humans who have been under severe stress but our pets as well. Animals, especially companion animals are extremely sensitive to their owner’s emotional state.

Over the past 3 weeks our vets at Lyttelton Animal Hospital have seen numerous cases related to the lockdown which we’ve grouped under the new self-named category of “COVID-19 Stress Syndrome”

These cases and diagnoses range from diseases associated with stress, abnormal behavior or changes in the pet’s normal environment and diet. In this short article I’ll briefly discuss some of these conditions and what to look out for but should you be worried about your pet in any way please do not hesitate to consult with us, we are available during all levels of lockdown and will be able to assist.


CATS and COVID-19 Stress Syndrome

We’ve seen abnormally high cases of cats with Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease or FLUTD. This is a well described inflammatory condition in the lower urinary tract in cats presenting with signs of difficult urination or even a blocked bladder.

Stress seems to be the main contributing factor in most of these cases, and during lockdown there are more people at home, more noise and more disruption of the daily routine leading to stress in these sensitive cats. Poor quality pet foods can also lead to the formation of crystals or plugs in the urine which causes urinary tract obstructions.

In South Africa most cats don’t use litter trays because they have access to big gardens and outside areas but the colder wet weather prevents some cats from following their normal toilet routines resulting in retention of urine predisposing to infections and urinary problems.

Signs to look out for:

  • Urinating in inappropriate areas, like next to a litter tray or in the bath

  • Straining or painful urination.

  • Vocalizing when trying to urinate.

  • Lethargic or decrease appetite

What you can do at home:

  • Provide litter trays during these stressful times.

  • Use a substrate in the tray that you know your cat likes and prefers.

  • Give some privacy and alone time, its’s important to place the litter tray in an area with little traffic and noise.

  • Golden rule: “number of cats plus one” for example: if you have 3 cats you must have at least 4 litter trays in different areas of the house.

  • Provide enough fresh clean drinking water. Some cat prefers running water from a tap, a small water fountain might be a good idea.

  • Pheromones and natural products like Feliway, Calmeze or Calming Collars may alleviate some of the stress and anxiety. Come chat to us about the best option available for your stressed kitty.

Seek veterinary care as soon as possible if you notice any of these symptoms. A blocked bladder can be fatal.


Dogs and COVID-19 Stress Syndrome

Most animals like routine but the past few weeks have been anything but routine or normal. Dogs don’t seem to mind having us around as much as cats do but be mindful that when you start going back to work this sudden change can lead to separation anxiety.


We’ve also seen a couple of cases where the pet started showing abnormal behavior as a result of the owner themselves feeling depressed or anxious due to their own uncertainty of what the future might hold.

Remember to provide your pets with adequate mental stimulation and a safe environment:

  • Interactive toys, there are numerous ones on the market like the Rogz Ball with treat dispenser.

  • Do not over cuddle or cling to your pet, if they sense you are anxious, they might start feeling the same. But hugs and kisses are always welcome, they are however man’s best friend for a reason.

  • Once you go back to work make sure your pet is in a safe environment, with comfortable warm bedding, enough clean water and shelter. A radio or TV can provide background noise.

  • Natural products like Calmeze, Adaptil pheromone spray or calming collars can be used to reduce anxiety or stress for highly strung dogs.

COVID-19 health associated concerns in Pets

  • If you are a smoker please smoke away from your pets. They are just as susceptible to secondhand smoking as humans. Some pets have presented with asthma symptoms in cases where the owner is suddenly home more and smoking a lot more due to stress.

  • Please don’t “treat” your pets with human foods, especially fatty foods. We’ve seen a few more upset tummies, diarrhea and even severe pancreatitis cases due to “COVID boredom” and your pet would need to go on a diet as well.

  • Remember that there is no evidence that pets can become carriers of COVID-19

  • If you are sick or test positive remember to wash your hands before and after you handle your pets and always wear a mask.

If you need any further information please feel free to contact us on LytteltonManorVet@gmail.com or +27126645763


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