Most dogs, and probably plenty of cats, are loving the extra time they are getting with their humans during the various stay at home orders put in place during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but with some states easing restrictions, this extra time may be coming to an end.
Experts at Best Friends Animal Society, the nation’s largest no-kill animal welfare organization, are advising pet owners to start preparing their cats and dogs for the time when they won’t be with their moms and dads 24/7.
Some pets might react to this change in schedule by showing signs of separation anxiety. Signs to look out for include:
- Barking, howling, or whining when you leave (not just in response to noises outside of the home), especially for longer than 30 seconds.
- Scratching or chewing at entrances and exits (doors/windows)
- Destructive behavior that only happens when the dog is alone
- Over-grooming or other self-harm or obsessive behaviors
- A change in appetite
To avoid putting your pet in distress, and to protect your home from destructive behavior, Janelle Metiva CPDT-KA, a dog behavior specialist at Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles, has created a plan to help pet owners prepare their dogs for the time when humans start to transition back to pre-quarantine life.
“Most pets don’t like sudden and abrupt changes. Instead, try starting now to get your pet ready and ease them back to your previously ‘normal’ routine more easily,” Metiva said in a statement.
To get dogs prepared for a little more alone time once again, Metiva suggests theses steps:
- Create a safe, comfortable place where they can have peaceful, relaxing alone time. This could be a crate or separate room, just make sure it’s the quietest part of the house.
- Provide them with enrichment that can be enjoyed independently, such as hidden treats in boxes, food puzzles, stuffed Kongs, etc.
- Play soothing music such as reggae, smooth jazz, or classical, or play the TV or radio to stations like the BBC or NPR while you’re gone to keep them from being startled by outside noises. You can also try a white noise machine.
- Reward your dog for calm, independent behavior (especially if they’re usually clingy). We tend to pay attention to dogs only when they’re active or even misbehaving. They should be rewarded for being calm and chill.
- Practice leaving for short periods of time to run essential errands or go for a walk:
- If your dog shows signs of panic, decrease the amount of time that you leave, even if for just a few seconds.
- If your dog barks or paws at the door when you leave, come back only when they’re quiet.
- If your dog has trouble being alone for even brief periods of time — consult a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT) who usually due virtual consultations.
Cats shouldn’t be left out of the plan, even though they are stereotyped as being more independent and aloof.
“Despite stereotypes that say otherwise, many cats form very close bonds with their humans and can become quite stressed when apart,” Samantha Bell, a cat behavior specialist with Best Friends Animal Society, said.
Cat separation anxiety signs include excessive vocalizations, overgrooming, and eliminating on their owner’s items in an attempt to mingle their scents together.
Bell’s top tips for cat owners who expect to return to work in the near future are:
- Engage your cat with a wand toy at least once a day. Allowing your cat the opportunity to hunt, catch and kill with an interactive toy will help build their confidence and strengthen their bond with you in the healthiest way possible.
- Ensure that whatever adjustments you’ve made to their routine while you’re home are sustainable when you go back to work. If you’ve started feeding your cats 4 times a day while you’re home, start cutting it back to what is doable when you’re not working from home.
- If you’re not already using them, introduce puzzle-feeders to your cat. Cats instinctively want to forage for their food and puzzle-feeders satisfy that instinct while providing fantastic enrichment during alone time.
- Cats feed off from people’s emotions. So, when it is time to go back to work, making a big, sad, dramatic scene as you leave is only going to make them feel more stressed. A happy, light tone and a little treat as you leave will keep their spirits up.
By taking these steps now, pet owners can help prevent stress for both themselves and their pets in the future. To learn more about pet separation anxiety, and how to handle it, visit Best Friends’ website.