During the last few months, the shutdowns and social distancing requirements that have been in place as a result of COVID-19 have left us all spending much more time at home than ever before. Many of us have been working from home, exercising at home, and eating all of our meals at home. With some of the isolation and lack of activity available to us, time with our pets has become more important than ever. We have had the chance to take them on extra walks, which benefits both pet and owner by allowing time out of the house and a chance to get some exercise. We’ve been able to pet them, play with them, cuddle them, and feed them treats at any point during the day. Our pets have likely enjoyed this and gotten very used to it! But as things begin to open up again, and many pet owners return to their usual work routines or begin to leave the house more frequently and for longer periods of time, how will our pets react to this? Pet owners may worry about the anxiety that this can cause for their cat or dog, and fear that pets may develop or return to bad habits, such as chewing or scratching things, having accidents in the house, or changes in eating habits. There are some ways that you can help your pet readjust to more alone time and less attention throughout the day.
Start your pet back on a more regular schedule. If you usually walk the dog for 20 minutes around 7am before heading out to work, and again around 6pm after you have returned home, return to keeping that walking schedule. It can be tempting to take the dog out for extra walks throughout the day while you are still able to, but adjusting your pet back to the walking schedule they usually have while you are at work or otherwise in your normal routine will help your pet readapt. The same goes for feeding and bedtime.
Try leaving your pet for increasing periods of time throughout the day even if you are still at home. Run errands or take a drive for a little longer than you may have been recently. If you have been taking your pet with you in the car or when you visit a friend or relative, but you did not typically do that before, have your pet stay home while you are out, so they can adjust to these periods of absence before you return to being gone all day.
Return to training methods you used when you first brought your pet into your home if your pet starts to show signs of acting out due to separation anxiety. This will be dependent on your pet and the methods you have used, but could include crate training, practicing certain commands, or reinitiating reinforcement techniques.
Ensure your pet has comfort items available while you are gone. This could be any of your cat or dog’s favorite toys or a blanket or pet bed with familiar smells.
Pay attention to your pet’s behavior, and if they start to show troubling signs of separation anxiety, even after attempts to help them readjust, give your vet a call. They can help you determine whether it is just separation anxiety or if there is a bigger problem, and give you advice on how to help keep your pet calm and readapt to your absence. Rest assured vets will probably be getting more calls than ever about stressed out pets, and you are not the only one who is worried about leaving your furry friend! Resources for preventing and dealing with pet separation anxiety can also be found on many veterinary and humane society websites, including https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/does-your-dog-freak-out-when-you-leave, https://www.paws.org/resources/separation-anxiety/, and https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/behavior/separation-anxiety-dogs.