With the latest reduction in Covid restrictions, many people are looking at a return to working in the office for the first time since March 2020. As well as home working, the last 15 months have also seen a boom in pet ownership. Cut off from family and friends, lots of people have sought out company and reassurance from cats, dogs, rabbits and other popular pets in the UK.
With a return to the office looming, these pets will be facing a difficult time: they’ve got used to having around at home. Being left alone for 8 – 10 hours is a huge change for a pet, though the impact can differ from species to species, as well as simply from animal to animal.
Signs and Symptoms
If you’ve already had to make this change you should be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of separation anxiety in your pet. These can take many different forms, so if you’re confused or worried by your pet’s behaviour, you should talk with your vet online or make an appointment at the surgery.
- Loss of weight
Some pets can lose their appetite when their usual schedule changes and may lose weight to a worrying degree
- Shedding fur
They may also shed extra fur or obsessively groom it out, leading to thinning fur and bald spots.
- Destructive behaviour
Many anxious pets relieve their emotions through behaviour we find destructive and difficult: chewing furniture and rugs (or even doors), clawing sofas and carpets, or destroying toys.
- Defecating indoors
Whether it’s because no one’s around to let them out, changes to their mealtimes or an anxious animal trying to establish a territory that feels safe, pets with separation anxiety may defecate and urinate indoors or outside their usual litter tray or toilet area.
The best thing you can do to combat separation anxiety is prepare your pet. Dogs in particular are social creatures who look to their owner for reassurance, approval and safety. If you’re going to be leaving them for an extended time, don’t drop them in the deep end. Training starts with the ‘stay’ command, teaching them to feel confident as you retreat greater distances away from them. From there you can leave them in a room by themselves, and in the house by themselves for at first short and then longer times. Teach them associate being left alone with good experiences by leaving them with a puzzle toy stocked with treats they don’t normally get to have and they’ll soon start to anticipate being left alone!
Cats are less social and less dependent on you than dogs, but can still be upset by long periods of unexpected isolation. Try preparing for the upcoming changes by altering your schedule as though you’ll be leaving for work everyday. Getting up earlier, feeding at different times and letting them out earlier or later are all potentially upsetting changes, and starting them while you’re still at home to reassure your cat can help them deal with the changes when you aren’t there.