Pets and Separation Anxiety
Looking toward the other side of this strange time as restrictions begin to ease and we re-assimilate back into our ‘normal’ lives, what happens to our pets?
The uncertainty of the past few months has proved challenging for most but our pets have absolutely loved it. Extra time with the family, multiple walks, hangouts in the home office... the list goes on. However, as much as both parties may have loved the extra time at home when we do go back to work and school our pets could suffer.
The consistent hours and days spent with our pets, in particular, new pets to the household can be what your pet expects moving forward. So, when this doesn’t happen and we need to spend hours away from them, separation anxiety may set in. Separation anxiety in our pets is distress associated with separation from us. This may be displayed as barking, digging, pacing, jumping out of the yard, urinating or defecting indoors for dogs. Cats will often urinate outside the litter box- including wardrobes and on pets as too much time with beds, they may pull their fur excessively or become increasingly vocal, to name a few. If your household has already experienced any of these behaviours from your pet, it is likely that they were feeling anxious. Unfortunately, these behaviours only worsen over time and rarely subside on their own. As you can imagine, this ends up in a downward spiral and can prove disastrous for our pet’s mental health when things go back to ’normal’. So what can we do to prevent this occurring? It is to be noted that anxiety is a complex disorder and you should seek professional advice from your veterinarian regarding your individual pet.
- Try and keep to a regular routine that is going to be maintained when back at work. If you’re walking your pet twice a day now, find the time to walk them twice a day in the future, even if this means getting up an hour earlier than usual. Your household will thank you for it.
- Treatment and further prevention are aimed at desensitizing your pet to the stimulus that causes anxiety.
- Avoid jumping straight back into long days away from your pet. Start in small increments, for example, just try opening and closing the front door and immediately re-entering. Build up to re-entering after 30 seconds, 15 minutes and then a few hours. Only increase the time period away from your pet when they no longer take any notice.
- Encourage independence and alone time by environmental enrichment. Give long-lasting chew toys and tools such as pet puzzles (yes these are a thing!) that keep your pets mind active, such as the Dr Zoo Lick Mat.
- Crate train your new puppy from the get-go. A great way for your puppy’s start to life. Plus has the benefit that when we can travel domestically again, your pup will be as happy as ever during the trip with the comfort of their crate.
- Don’t be lured into thinking getting a second pet will help the anxiety of the first. It is the separation from us that they feel the most, not from another pet. Beware multi-cat households can cause more stress on one cat than if they were living alone.
- Consider changing your behaviour, as much as we want to pick up and cuddle and comfortable our pets when they are anxious, this can just feel the fire as they see us as their safety blanket.
- Avoid excessive excitement and time spent with them on leaving and arriving home, as much as we want to run up and hug and make a fuss over our pets, this can further exacerbate the problem.
Life as we knew it may never be the same, but it does go on and hopefully as harmoniously as possible if we take a little time now to prepare our pets. Please talk to your veterinarian if you feel your pet is suffering from anxiety and seek professional advice.