We've got news for you.

Register on Sunday Times at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now

Fur babies are also feeling the Covid blues


Fur babies are also feeling the Covid blues

Noticed something unusual about your pup? Lockdown stress can make your pet sick

Ross Finck and his beloved dog Hughey.
INSEPERABLE Ross Finck and his beloved dog Hughey.
Image: Supplied

Ross Finck, a music mastering engineer, did not realise how stressed he was about the lockdown until his stress levels literally made his dog sick. And it’s not unusual.

Finck’s dog Hughey was diagnosed with haemorrhagic gastroenteritis — ulcers in the stomach and intestinal tracts caused mainly by stress, anxiety and hyperactivity. The vet he went to in Cape Town said he had had four such cases in the past three days and that dogs picked up the stress from their owners. Although Finck usually works from home, there has been less work during lockdown, and his future work is uncertain, putting strain on his finances.

Johannesburg dog behaviourist Donald Capper said he usually saw about 12 clients a month, but during the lockdown, half his existing clients needed consultation because of stress behaviours in their dogs.

Finck said he noticed at the beginning of April that Hughey, a five-year-old cross, was not feeling too hot.

“We try to entertain the pups as much as possible – we move the car from the garage so we can throw a ball for them. But Hughey wasn’t feeling OK, and when I went outside I noticed a lot of blood in his stool.”

Hughey was admitted to a Kenilworth vet clinic for three days.

The vet warned Finck that the pup was picking up on his stress and internalising it. But Finck did not realise until speaking to the vet how stressed he actually was.

Hughey after his three days at the vet.
Hughey after his three days at the vet.
Image: Ross Finck

Musician Aqib Kazi from Cape Town said his three-year-old Golden Retriever, Allen, was recovering from haemorrhagic gastroenteritis, which the vet believed was caused by stress and lack of physical exercise.

This was made worse by the regulations of level five of the lockdown where dog walking was not allowed.

“I’m aware of my privilege in that I only have to worry about my dogs’ wellbeing while there are people starving in rural areas without any work.” 

Imraan Sayed, a veterinary surgeon at the Belmont Clinic in Cape Town, said vets were still uncertain about the actual origins of the condition, but one of the triggers was stress.

Sayed said: “There could be some clinics seeing more cases with pets being confined with lack of exercise that leads to increased stress. That said, in most instances owners are at home with their pets, so their stress levels should be reduced. Another possibility is dogs getting access to or being fed more ‘table scraps’ that leads to more tummy upsets.”

Joburg dog behaviourist Donald Capper.
Cool story, but where's the ball? Joburg dog behaviourist Donald Capper.
Image: Donald Capper

Joburg-based dog behaviourist Donald Capper, however, said any change in environment, including an owner being home more than usual, was a cause for stress in a dog.

“In my regular clients I’ve seen an almost 50% increase in animal behaviour change during the lockdown.”

Capper has had to change his own behaviour, and now consults clients over social media and in extreme cases from the pavement of their homes.

His own dog Luka, a nine-year-old Belgian Shepherd, was diagnosed with a haemorrhagic gastroenteritis seven years ago after travelling around the country with Capper.

Donald Capper's dog Luka also suffered from haemorrhagic gastroenteritis,
Donald Capper's dog Luka also suffered from haemorrhagic gastroenteritis,
Image: Donald Capper

“Dogs like predictable behaviour; a change in environment is the leading cause of stress for them. Dogs and humans have a similar response to stress; we feel it in our gut. When we are stressed we move differently because we carry stress physically in the way we behave. Dogs mirror their owners’ behaviour, so they will also be stressed if you are stressed.”

He said behaviour that indicated stress was needy behaviour, pets pacing, shedding of fur, not fully resting and being unsettled. He suggested creating an environment that was rich in distractions, such as playing games and challenging them with obstacles.

“We have a major problem coming when owners go back to work. Dogs won’t remember what it was like before lockdown. I’m predicting a lot of barking or vocalising behaviours and destructive behaviours when owners are no longer at home.”