Pets under shelter-in-place: Are dogs and cats happier now that we're home all the time? We asked experts

SAN FRANCISCO -- With shelter-in-place orders being extended around the San Francisco Bay Area and in other parts of the U.S. during the novel coronavirus pandemic, we're all stuck at home a while longer: kids, parents, couples, and - yes - pets.

Is your dog thrilled to have you home for extra pets and extra-long walks? Or is he wishing he could sleep the day away in peace? How about your cat, who plops onto your keyboard in the middle of a video call? Is that sign he's happy you're home or does he miss the peace and quiet of the good old days?

We asked a couple of experts to help us figure out how our pets are really feeling during these unprecedented times of COVID-19 isolation.

"It depends on the cat and the situation," said Marilyn Krieger, a cat behavior consultant and founder of The Cat Coach. "Some cats who are really super bonded with their people are thrilled. But the thing is to remember is cats pick up on their people's stress."

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That's true of both cats and dogs. Your pets may become more clingy (or hide out) if they sense your stress and anxiety - and it's no surprise people are feeling a bit more stress and anxiety these days.

"If being home all the time means that kids are constantly pestering pets, and they're not getting the rest they need to affect, that could also affect (their wellbeing)," explained Kathryn Horn with Paws and Cues Dog Training.

If there's added chaos in your household, Krieger suggests creating "people-free zones" in your house to give your cat a chance to escape.

What about loneliness? Humans are missing their human friends these days, so are dogs missing their friends from the dog park?

It's not exactly the same, Horn explained. But if they're used to playing at the dog park, they may be missing that sort of enrichment. She suggests replacing dog park time with "nose games" or taking your dog for a walk at his or her pace.

"Let it be your dog's walk. Give your dog enough time to sniff. That is very calming for dogs and very healthy. It's how they explore their world," said Horn.

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Generally speaking, you'll know whether something isn't right with your pets.

"Most pet people know what is normal for our pets," said Horn. "Watch for the little things."

Pet owners should look for any abnormal behavior, such as appetite changes, increased vocalization, more clinginess or a pet who is hiding more.

But Horn said chances are most pets are pretty happy to see their owners more regularly.

"I suspect our pets are absolutely tickled to death. I'm actually worried about what happens when we leave the house again," she said. To help prepare for a time when we'll be leaving the house more often - however far off it may be - Horn recommends leaving the house regularly without your dog. You can do your groceries without your dog, take a walk around the block without him or even just sit in your car and knit. All those things can help prepare your pet for when you head back to work.

The good news: If you're soothed by having more time with your pets, the same is probably true for them.

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