As additional COVID restrictions around compulsory face masks come into force today for residents of metro Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, RSPCA Victoria is urging people to consider how the introduction of face masks may impact their animals.
RSPCA Victoria Behaviourist, Nikki Johnson, said it would not be surprising if pets reacted differently to their owners when wearing a mask.
“One of the main ways pets communicate with their owners is by facial expressions. Masks remove much of this form of communication so it wouldn’t be unusual for them to feel uneasy with this new change,” said Ms Johnson.
“Pets thrive off feeling safe and are quick to assess whether a new object is a potential danger or threat. When introducing your mask to them, it’s important to pair the experience with something desirable – such as a treat, fun game, praise or affection. This will help them associate the mask with something positive.
“If you note your animal is showing fear, and it is safe to do so, consider removing or lowering your mask to normalise the situation and help them read your facial expressions.
“Pets usually respond better to change when it is slow or gradual. It’s important to give them time to investigate the mask and feel comfortable interacting with you when you are wearing it for short periods of time.
“If your pet is still unsure about the mask, remove them from the situation and try again tomorrow. It’s okay to go back a couple of steps to a point where they are comfortable and then try to build them back up again.
“It’s important cats are not forgotten in this discussion either. Some cats may have reactions to masks, particularly if they have negative associations with animal handling already. Usually allowing them to scent you will help re-establish the familiarity.
Some additional tips to help your pet adjust to face masks are:
- Make sure your pet is calm when you start trying to desensitise them to the mask.
- Wear plain masks of pale colours, and avoid masks with patterns that include faces, eyes or mouths.
- Make habituation sessions short and positive.
- Smile even when masked, as friendliness can be conveyed by your eyes. But do not make long, direct eye contact as this can be perceived as a threat.