How to Help Your Pets Deal with Separation Anxiety
As America continues putting COVID-19 in its rear-view mirror, many of our pets—who have gotten used to having their humans with them throughout the day—will suffer from separation anxiety. You may think this only affects your dogs because they tend to express their emotions so openly, but it can also affect your cats. Cats are just better at hiding their emotions.
While dogs will show their anxiety by panting, drooling, crying and barking, cats are more likely to do so in more subtle ways like excessive grooming, eating too fast or not at all and destructive behavior like scratching your furniture. However, some cats may not be so subtle. They might meow or cry excessively or start eliminating outside their litter box.
Like us, our pets like consistency in their lives. They like having a regular routine. So, when the pandemic struck and people started staying home and even working from home, their worlds were turned upside down. Our pets love spending time with us so, while their routines may have changed dramatically, from your pet’s perspective, it was likely a good change they adjusted to quickly.
But now, as people start going back to the office and returning to their pre-COVID lives, our pets—who have gotten used to spending much more time with us—will likely not see this change to their routine in the same positive way. In fact, many of out pets will suffer from separation anxiety.
However, there are things we can do to help alleviate this. Create a safe haven for your pets with a bed, blankets and their favorite toys. Crating your dog may help keep them calm if they view their crate as a safe place. However, for some dogs—especially those who weren’t crate-trained at an early age—the crate may be a source of added stress and anxiety. Providing a secluded nook for your cat is a great way to create a safe space for them.
Leaving a tv or radio on is another way to help calm your pets. It’s especially helpful to tune it to a channel that is regularly on when you’re home.
Our pets are very observant and will pick up on certain cues like the jingling sound your keys make as you pick them up. Or, when you put on a coat or pick up your purse.
To alleviate this, expose them to departure cues without leaving. Pick up your keys and put them in your pocket and then sit down and watch tv. Or, put on your coat or grab your purse and then sit down at the kitchen table for a while. When you do leave, do so in a low-key way without a lot of fanfare. Stay relaxed and your pets will pick up on your vibe and it will help them to relax as well.
To start with, make short trips of 10 to 15 minutes and then gradually lengthen the time you’re gone. Your dog may begin barking once they realize you’ve left. As hard as it may be, do not return to try to calm them down. Your dog will see this as a reward, and you will simply be reinforcing that behavior. Instead, leave and return in 10 to 15 minutes—ideally, long enough for them to settle down and stop barking. When you enter your house, again do so in a low-key way with little fanfare. Talking in a high-pitched or excited voice will excite your pets as well. That’s the opposite of what you want to do. Instead, maintain a relaxed demeanor and it will help your pets remain more relaxed.
It will take time, perhaps even weeks, for your dogs to settle into this new routine of you leaving for extended periods. Build up the time you’re gone slowly over a period of time. Once your dog gets used to you being gone for an hour or so, they will likely be ready for much longer time periods. While it may take time, they will eventually become accustomed to their new routine.
Make it a point to spend some quality time with your pets every morning and every evening. Instead of letting your dog out into the backyard, take her for a walk. Spend a few minutes playing with or brushing your cat. Just a few minutes of quality time with your pets will help them to settle into their new routine.
If you’re not able to take your dog on a walk every morning or evening, it’s a great idea to have someone take her for a walk in the middle of the day. This will help break up your dog’s day and is a great way to exercise and tire them out. A tired dog is a relaxed dog! Most pet sitting companies offer daily dog walking services.
It also helps to give your pets some toys to occupy their time while you’re gone so they don’t get bored. A bored pet is often a destructive pet. Treat toys are a great way to keep your pets occupied. Treat toys can be stuffed with food morsels or treats and your pets will have to play with them in order to retrieve a food reward. There are plenty of treat toys on the market. The KONG Gyro Interactive Treat Dispensing toy is a great option. It’s available in a large or small size depending on the size of your dog.
For cats, I found one of the best treat toys is one you can make from an empty roll of toilet paper. Just take the cardboard roll and squeeze one end shut and roll it so it stays closed. Then, toss a few treats or food morsels inside and hide it some place where your cat will find it.
Giving your dog something to chew on will also help alleviate their anxiety. Chewing is a natural way for a dog to release tension. There are lots of chew toys on the market. Just make sure you get one that’s appropriately sized for your dog.
As is the case with all toys—regardless of whether it’s for a dog or a cat—it’s always a good idea to remove anything that could be a choking hazard or dangerous for your pet if they swallowed it such as strings, ribbons or eyes that can be chewed off and swallowed.
Cats are natural climbers so it’s important for them to have a perch they must climb to for access. There are a wide variety of cat trees available at pet stores and every cat should have one.
It’s also important to have a good scratching post available for your cats. Cats scratch to sharpen their claws but they also scratch as a way to release tension. Without a scratching post, your cat will likely turn to your furniture.
It will take time for our pets to settle into a new routine but the best way to help them do that is by setting a new schedule and sticking with it consistently. Our sister company, Poopie Patrol, posted a great blog on the importance of maintaining a consistent routine with our pets. You can read it by clicking here.
Last, but definitely not least, make sure to provide plenty of cuddles and playtime once you’re home so your pets know they can count on you for security and stability as they adapt to their changing world.