With schools, workplaces and most public spaces closed or operating under limited capacity to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the pandemic was understandably an isolating time for many people. Pet adoption boomed during the pandemic – a direct result of people’s work-from-home schedules and the sudden and extended absence of socialization. In fact, rescue animals were honored as TIME’s Pet of the Year in 2020 thanks to the surge in adoptions from shelters and nonprofits.
‘Pandemic pets’ not only kept people company during extended periods of solitude, but have helped pet owners feel healthier. According to a study from pet-sitting app Rover, 93 percent of people reported the pets they adopted during the pandemic improved their mental and/or physical wellbeing. Eighty percent of people said their pets made remote work and staying at home more enjoyable. What’s more, 40 percent of those surveyed say they are feeling anxious about leaving their pet at home to return to work in person.
Now that states are beginning to loosen restrictions following widespread uptake of the vaccine, pet owners are dealing with the stress of leaving their pets alone – some of which have never known a world in which their human ventures from home for more than a few hours at a time. Separation anxiety is common in cats, dogs and other pets. Some common signs include destructive chewing, excessive vocalization (e.g. barking, howling, whining), using the bathroom indoors (or outside of their litterbox), vomiting, and changes in appetite. However, separation anxiety can manifest differently – both physically and mentally – depending on the animal, their personality and the situation at hand.
We’ve compiled a few tips to help make the transition back to ‘normal’ easier on your furry friend – and on yourself.
1. Stock up on treats and toys.
Positive reinforcement training and praise will play an important role in your pet’s transition to staying home alone. Rewarding him or her with treats when you arrive and depart, or new toys for exemplary behavior, will help your pet warm up to their newfound independence.
You may also want to purchase baby gates or other pet-safe barriers to ensure your companion cannot access off-limits rooms or areas in your home. For an extra layer of protection, consider purchasing a pet camera so you can check on them throughout the day.
2. Play a soundtrack.
Sound is proven to have a calming effect. Playing classical music, audiobooks, white noise or even leaving the television on can help distract your pet from smaller sounds – such as the mail carrier, traffic or neighbors – that might trigger their anxiety.
3. Get your pet used to being alone.
Start leaving your pet gradually to increase their tolerance for being alone. This process is called desensitization, and can help your pet cope with separation more effectively than immediately transitioning to your new schedule. It may help your pet if you leave a recently worn piece of your clothing in their crate or enclosure.
Some offices have begun to introduce pet policies in light of the ‘pandemic pet’ boom. If your office is pet-friendly, consider bringing yours in once in a while. If your company doesn’t allow pets in the office, think about suggesting an outing to a pet-friendly venue to your colleagues.
4. Stick to a schedule.
Consistency is key to mitigating separation anxiety. Once you have worked through the desensitization process with your pet, ensure you’re following the same schedule – such as with feedings and walks – as much as possible. Predictability will help your pet feel more secure.
5. Enlist the help of a medical professional.
If your pet isn’t responding to your efforts to help their separation anxiety, or their condition is worsening, it may be time to seek the advice of your veterinarian. Your vet can prescribe medication, recommend alternative treatments or training, or refer you to an animal behaviorist who can give your pet the extra TLC it needs to cope with its anxiety.
Managing your own behavioral health is important, too. Blue KC offers trained advocates, expedited access to services, workshops, virtual care and online therapeutic resources for those who need them. You can read our introduction to Mindful by Blue KC, our comprehensive suite of behavioral health resources, on The Blueprint or visit MindfulBlueKC.com to learn more.