As many of us begin to make the transition back to in-person work and school, our pets may be left with newly-developed separation anxiety. If you are concerned about how your pet will respond to your change in routine, you’re not alone.While you four-legged friends have probably loved having you home during quarantine and soaking up all of the snuggles and extra quality time, the increased attention can make it that much harder for them to re-adjust once your schedule changes again.
An estimated 20-40% of dogs struggle with separation anxiety, even under normal circumstances. That percentage is especially prevalent in rescue animals, who often have experienced some sort of trauma from abandonment in their past. While separation anxiety is less common in cats, it can still happen, especially when a feline has an extremely strong bond with its owner.
Here are some tips and tricks on how to help your pet overcome these anxieties.
Keep Your Routine as Consistent as Possible
If you are returning to work or school, even if your schedule is flexible, your furry friends will do better if you leave the house and return to the house at about the same time everyday. They will also respond positively to “signal” elements of your routine, such as walking them as soon as you come home, or feeding them in the morning before you leave. They will learn to associate these repeated actions at specific times with the normalcy of your coming and going. And, if you haven’t returned to work or school yet, keeping mealtimes, walks, and playtime the same may aid in building a blueprint that will help your pet adjust to your normal work or school schedule.
Make Your Transition Gradual
If you can, try to make a gradual transition from spending nonstop time with your pet to going back to your regular work or school schedule. A sudden, drastic decrease in time spent with your pet can be difficult for them to understand, especially if they’ve become used to having you around constantly during quarantine. To make the gradual shift, give them shorter time periods alone at home while you go out for errands, or perhaps just leave them alone in another room with toys or enrichment items to entertain them so they become comfortable being by themselves for periods of time. If your school schedule or employer is flexible enough to allow it, you can also start your return to the office or classroom for half a day at a time and build back to a full day working from the office. This way the transition is not as abrupt or stressful for your pet. Giving them time to acclimate is extremely helpful in mitigating potential separation anxiety.
Invest in Anxiety-Relieving Toys
Interactive toys may be a great way for your pet to stay occupied while you’re away from home. Many pets who suffer from separation anxiety may take it out on your furniture or look for other ways to entertain themselves, so distract them in constructive ways to keep them calm and build confidence. You can check websites like Chewy or Amazon for some cost-effective options that will challenge your pet’s mind and help relax your pet while you’re away. For cats, make sure they have a cat tree or other way of climbing up to be able to see the outside world from a window, as this can help relieve anxiety. Pets that are food-motivated may do better with anxiety-relieving toys such as a Kong stuffed with frozen peanut butter or a long-lasting, digestive safe bone or treat. These are a great choice and giving it to your pet right before you leave also helps establish positive associations in their minds with your departure. If you shop on Amazon.com, remember to go to smile.amazon.com for all of your shopping and designate FoMA as your charity of choice!
Leave on TV or Music
Do your part and put on some Animal Planet! Soothing music or a TV show may make your pet feel more comfortable and relaxed while you’re away. Auditory and visual stimulation can help keep them distracted while alone in your home and also simulate the sounds they are used to hearing when their humans are in the house. According to Hillspet.com, calming music, such as classical music, helped to calm anxious cats in one study when owners were out of the house. There is even a digital streaming channel called DogTV made especially for dogs that is customized with colors and sounds that they hear best. On DogTV, there are three categories to choose from: relaxation, stimulation or exposure. Relaxation helps dogs with stress and anxiety relief with soothing music and visuals; this is great for a dog with anxiety. Stimulation helps your dog be mentally stimulated while home alone and uses sounds and video to keep your dog engaged while you’re away. Exposure is great for a dog that is simply overly attached, keeping them occupied by providing different types of stimuli.
Schedule Active Time
If you’re going to be spending less time at home with your pet, make sure to schedule time to be active with them before you leave every morning and when you return at night to get some of that pent up energy out. A long walk with your dog or playing with your cat could help release some of the anxiety they feel and tire them out so they will be more restful while you are gone. Instead of getting into anxiety-fueled destructive activities, they’re more likely to sleep and spend some relaxed time alone.
Just like humans, dogs and cats can also suffer from anxiety and depression. If your change of schedule is particularly tough on your pet, consult your veterinarian about supplements and medications that could help. There are numerous remedies available for both dogs and cats with anxiety, ranging from herbal and even pet specific CBD-based supplements to clinically prescribed drugs. Most anxiety medications have few side effects so the benefits to your pet’s quality of life could be substantial if proven to be helpful for their anxiety.
Ultimately, each individual pet is different, and it often takes trial and error to crack the code to your pet’s anxiety. If you are having an especially difficult time, it is also a great idea to reach out to a certified trainer or veterinary behaviorist who can help you help your pet with your next transition.