Funny behaviour from pets as owners stay home

Business development manager Jayce Ho and her pets, including a dog and chickens. One of her chickens will repeatedly fly from his coop and perch on the fence, waiting to be hugged.
Business development manager Jayce Ho and her pets, including a dog and chickens. One of her chickens will repeatedly fly from his coop and perch on the fence, waiting to be hugged.PHOTO: JAYCE HO
When Ms Joanne Ng began working from home in March, she noticed that her cat Tora started hiding in places like the wardrobe for chunks of the day, which is not his usual behaviour.
When Ms Joanne Ng began working from home in March, she noticed that her cat Tora started hiding in places like the wardrobe for chunks of the day, which is not his usual behaviour. PHOTO: JOANNE NG

Since recruiter Ernieza Zailani and her husband Nazeer Hussin began working from home on April 7, their one-year-old Siberian cat Rhea has been "absolutely digging it".

"More time to disturb us," says Ms Ernieza, laughing. "Rhea spends most of the day napping, but she loves begging for food, so sometimes that means demanding her second breakfast during my Zoom meetings."

At night, once the 30-year-old tucks her newborn son into bed, Rhea immediately stalks over to her and Mr Nazeer with a toy in tow.

"She just stares into our faces like we owe our lives to her," Ms Ernieza says, adding that the "overly hyper kitten" probably misses the half-hour walks she used to go on every evening, which have been reduced to just twice or thrice a week.

To work off Rhea's pent-up energy, the couple play games like catching and hide-and-seek with her for an hour each night.

Sometimes, they entertain her with a laser pointer or a set of electronic toy fish they bought recently.

Just like humans, the daily lives of many pets have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, and some are behaving differently as they find new ways to cope.

Veterinarian Angeline Yang says changes are to be expected, although owners should continue to monitor their pets' behaviour closely.

"Some pets will enjoy the extra attention, while others don't," the 32-year-old says. "Like always, reward good behaviour and ignore the unwanted ones."

Her own cat Tako has taken to sleeping on her head or pillow instead of at her feet, but Dr Yang says: "If the clinginess is not undesirable, just enjoy it."

Belle and Roxy, Mrs Ingrid Jonker-Kikkert's two fur-kids, are also "a lot more needy", acting as though she and her husband have recently returned from an overseas trip.

  • Read your pet's mood 

  • If your pet is seeking attention and showing more interest in play, that usually means it has adjusted well to disruptions to routines caused by the circuit breaker, says Dr Chang Siow Foong, group director of the Animal & Veterinary Service at the National Parks Board (NParks).

    He adds that while those who have not may withdraw to quiet areas of the home or appear disinterested, a pet's response will also vary according to its personality and needs.

    To alleviate any anxiety your pet may be facing, he suggests maintaining a routine such as consistent feeding times and ensuring that your pet has enough space for rest and time to itself.

    For energetic pets, in particular, reduced outdoor time or physical activity may result in a loss of appetite or increased barking and chewing.

    They may also exhibit displacement behaviours, which is when behaviours are performed out of context, like yawning when they are not sleepy.

    Dr Chang says: "Remember to provide adequate exercise through play or short walks, but do walk your dog alone in a park close by."

    In any case, he stresses that pets require constant care and attention, and owners should be able to identify any signs of distress.

    Dr Angeline Yang, a veterinarian at VetMobile, a mobile vet service, says avoidance, loss of appetite, rapid breathing (especially when resting), drinking much more water than usual, restlessness or vocalising more often are all behaviours to look out for.

    Owners should also take note if there is a significant change in character, like a chirpy pet becoming withdrawn.

    Dr Yang adds: "Do not automatically assume that changes are due to your constant presence at home. You may simply be more observant now that you have more time at home. If you think it is becoming an issue and not going away, please seek a vet's advice."

    Otherwise, the increased amount of time spent at home is a great opportunity to bond with your pet, says Dr Chang. And if you are interested in making upcycled toys or healthy snacks for your pet, you can check out the series of tutorial videos on NParks' YouTube channel (@NParksSG) titled Pets & Us.

"Apparently, to the cats, my arm and keyboard are excellent places to nap," says the 48-year-old, merchandise officer at the Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals (SPCA) Singapore.

"And when Roxy believes it's time for attention, she'll make a lot of noise, pick a fight with Belle and wait for me while lying on her back so she can be belly-rubbed."

Even two of the seven Polish chickens owned by business development manager Jayce Ho - all named Chick Chick - have become more "manja".

"One of them would not stop whining until someone picked her up," says Ms Ho, who is in her late 20s. "She'll doze off in your arms, but if you put her down, she'll just whine again."

She and her family were also amused to see another chicken repeatedly fly from his coop and perch on the fence, "waiting to be hugged".

Some pets, on the other hand, need more space.

For example, six-year-old Japanese spitz Fluffy now spends more time napping in small corners of the flat she shares with undergraduate Heather Chong and her family.

"When she wakes up, she'll still come and ask for attention, but I sometimes feel like maybe she's getting sick of us," the 20-year-old says with a laugh.

When Ms Joanne Ng, founder of dating service Table For Two Asia, began working from home in March, she noticed that her ginger cat Tora would go "missing for chunks of the day", only to be found hiding in places like the wardrobe.

The 46-year-old says: "He used to follow me around like a dog, so this is a big change."

Strangely, Tora seems to have swopped roles with her other cat Neko, who was nicknamed "ah lian" for her hostility.

"She basically hisses fiercely at the other cats all the time, but she rarely does that anymore and, in fact, always tries to be close to me," Ms Ng says.

"At first I thought it was very sweet, but it's become a 24-7 affair and is a bit torturous when the weather is hot."

Similarly, Mr Ryan Foo's four-year-old rat-terrier Osha will squeeze between him and his family while they watch television, or step on them as they try to exercise.

As a puppy, Osha had a mild form of separation anxiety, but has since grown to be independent, content to rest in her own corner for long afternoons alone.

But these days, she is "constantly engaged", going for up to three walks a day and playing with balls or toys being thrown around the home more frequently.

Mr Foo, who is 20 and recently graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, says: "The affection is comforting, but I hope she'll be able to adjust when we eventually go back to school and work, and the anxiety will not resurface."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2020, with the headline 'Funny behaviour from pets as owners stay home'. Subscribe