While it feels like the quarantine deadline has been extended 25 times, and we may never be done with stay-at-home orders, we will indeed go back to work someday. And although you may be excited to get out of the house, it will be a drastic change for your pet. We have pretty much been with them 24/7 for weeks now, and you suddenly being gone for hours can cause significant stress and depression. This is especially true for those pets adopted during the quarantine, who have never known you to be away!
Recognizing the signs of stress can vary greatly from pet to pet, but generally speaking, shows up as a change in behavior.
Dogs may drool, shake, shiver, pant, or chew/scratch/dig excessively, while cats might show their discontent by refusing to use the litter box. Both may exhibit a change in appetite, over-groom themselves, be lethargic, have diarrhea, or be aggressive, nervous, or depressed. Any change in the household is a potential trigger for stress for your pet.
We need to take small steps now to prepare our pets for when we return to work, and minimize any separation anxiety. You will want to have a comfortable place for your pet while you are gone during the day. If your dog isalready crate-trained, then that may be a good option (but if they are not familiar, now is not a good timeto introduce another new environment). Otherwise, prepare a room or sectioned off area of the house forthem (baby gates can be helpful), and provide them with things to keep them comfortable. Their bed or a blanket that will smell like you are great, as well as enrichment toys to keep them busy. A few greatoptions are Kongs stuffed with treats and peanut butter or cream cheese, puzzle “feeders” or treatholders, or treats frozen in water or broth.
The goal is to distract the pet for those first moments when you are away, and to keep their mind and body working. Always use the same “space” as part of this routine.
If your home is usually noisy with the TV on, kids, or music, then consider leaving a radio on for your pet.
If your home is normally pretty quiet, then leaving the TV or music on may actually cause more anxiety for them.
Most importantly, you want to get into a routine NOW. If you have been sleeping in, or not having much of a schedule, it is time to start. Shift your dog’s morning walk or cat’s breakfast a bit each day until it matches up with your normal work schedule. They should be used to waking up, eating, and going out at the correct times before you go back to work.
If you will be using a dog-walker or having someone else visit the home while you are gone, have them start providing service now. Your pet should be familiar and comfortable with them before you are away. Doing “practice runs” is also a great idea, especially for those pets adopted DURING quarantine. Animals will look to us for clues about what is going to happen, so the act of putting your shoes on or picking up your keys can cause them to think they are going for a walk or car ride, rather than you leaving for work. Move your keys around during the day, even when you’re not leaving the house. Practice leaving the house. If your dog begins barking or whining, DO NOT re-enter. Wait until he/she is quiet, then come back inside. You do not want to reward the barking with your presence, praise or any treat. Consider doing little half-days away right now. Place the pet in their area with a stuffed kong or frozen treat to keep them busy, leave at the time you would for work, but go do a grocery run, or even get coffee and read in your car for an hour.
Misbehavior while you are away is NOT a sign of obedience, but rather anxiety. Further obedience training may just place further stress on your pet. Punishment is also a terrible idea, as that usually makes the anxiety worse. You want your pet to be happy and comfortable while you are away, so introducing a crate, a new dog-walker, and unusual music all at once is going to be too much for your pet. Despite a pet-owner’s best efforts, some animals may have overwhelming anxiety no matter what tips and tricks you use. You can always talk to your vet about natural calming treats, medication, or even testing for underlying issues.Remember that a tired pet is usually a good pet, so keep up the exercise and play, even when you are gone or working long hours (hey, we know some great dog-walkers!). Even cats need to be active and engaged. I find that nothing clears my head and cheers me up after a long day at work like a good walk outside or playing with a pet, so it’s great for both of you! If you start preparing a safe space and regulars chedule now, along with practicing time away from home, you are setting your pet up for success.
For more information on dogs and separation anxiety visit:
Sources: The Humane Society of the United States, ASPCA, VCA Hospitals, Complete Canine Care, ABC News, Best FriendsSociety, CNN Health