Social distancing has had a lot of unintended consequences - one being that our pets have had a lot of quality time with their parents.
For pets used to having an empty house to themselves for most of the day, a sudden, long-term shift to humans working from home in the wake of COVID-19 can produce dramatic swings on the emotional spectrum. Happy for extra belly rubs, anxious about not having “alone” time and disruption of normal weekday schedules, confusion - you name it. Not too different than if you were to spend three months straight with your parents, a partner, or a roommate who normally was gone 8+ hours a day.
Over the past couple of months, we’ve heard from concerned Fuzzy parents about the anxiety their fur babies are facing in quarantine, and because of the extra quality time, we're we're much more aware of their behaviors and schedules.There have also been record numbers of pet's being fostered or adopted, many with new, first-time pet parents, andFuzzy has also seen an increased demand for "thundershirts"- anxiety medications and calming supplements for cats and dogs.
As the country gradually reopens, we’re hearing concerns from pet parents about separation anxiety as we go back to “normal” (whatever that looks like). If this applies to you and your household, here are some suggestions from our veterinarians.
Symptoms and signs
The first step in managing any condition is to recognize it exists. In pets, symptoms of separation anxiety can include vocalization while alone (think barking, howling), damage done to the home, or even an increase in “accidents” and forgetting their potty training. Your pet may even demonstrate anxious behavior - shaking, restlessness, becoming withdrawn, - when they realize you’re about to leave.
How to manage separation anxiety
The main goal in managing your pet’s separation anxiety is to get them used to being alone again. Depending on you and your pet’s situation, there are a few ways to do this:
If your pet experiences anxiety once they realize you’re about to leave - cues like getting your keys, putting on shoes, grabbing a purse - teaching them to disassociate these actions with leaving is key. Walk with your purse or shoes around the house, so your pet learns these cues don’t automatically signal an exit.
If your pet experiences anxiety once you’re gone, especially for long periods of time, build up their confidence gradually. If you have a home office, mirror “going to work” like you would if you were leaving the home. Leaving your pet alone for one or two hours at a time, even if you’re still in the home, will accustom them to you being gone. Once they’re comfortable, you can gradually expand to errands outside the home for the same time frame, progressing to your full normal workday.
In the beginning, your pet may just need a familiar face to keep them company. If you have access to a dog sitter, or a family member or friend is willing to keep an eye on your pet while you’re away, feel free to call upon them.
Provide your pet a safe space in the home - a “security blanket” if you will. Many pets will already have one, or a familiar object that helps put them at ease. Easy access to these spaces and objects will help them stay calm while you’re gone.
Depending on the severity of your pet’s situation, medical intervention and anxiety supplements may be necessary. Chat with a vet if you think this could be the case for your pet or if you have questions.
When it comes to dealing with separation anxiety in our pets, the most important thing is to stay calm and remember they feel this way because they love us. We miss our pets while we’re away from them, it’s no different for them.
Have more questions? Download our app to chat with a vet about your pet’s separation anxiety.