Updated: Jan 12
Guest Blog by : Melissa Kauffman
If there was one good thing to come out of the 2020 quarantine experience, it was the quality time we got to spend with our four-legged loved ones. But as stay at home orders have been lifted, owners are starting to return to work. Pets are being left with many long and lonely hours, prompting very real ‘separation anxiety’ issues. What is pet separation anxiety? Experts describe separation anxiety as a “pet’s distress” caused by the absence of the owner”.
Signs of separation anxiety in dogs and cats
If you are noticing the following, the chances are that your pets are suffering more than you realize:
When you leave, your pets bark, howl or whine for longer than 30 seconds – this is not in reaction to noises outside the house
Entrances and exits – doors and windows – will have scratch marks or chew marks
Your pets destroy couches or pillows or other belongings but only when they are alone
A tendency to over-groom or other self-harm/obsessive behaviors
Your bedspread or couch becomes the ‘new’ elimination area
Helping a pet overcome separation anxiety
Pets do not adjust well to sudden change in routine. Instead of leaving one day after spending day after day on end at home, we highly recommend easing your pets into small spurts of separation. That way when the day comes that you have to be gone for more than 8 hours, they will already be used to the new routine.
Additionally, Our Fit Pets states that it’s important to note that some dog breeds are simply more prone to separation anxiety than others. The breeds who tend to suffer most are:
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
Jack Russell Terriers
Here are some helpful tips in preparing your pet to stay home alone.
Provide a safe place for your pet to remain calm and feel comfortable. This could be a crate or separate small room, just make sure it’s the quietest part of the house.
Leave your pets with enrichment toys and games that they can play with independently, such as hidden treats in boxes, food puzzles, stuffed Kongs, etc. You may want to give them these items only when you leave so they can associate your leaving with a fun toy, treat or game, lessening the blow of leaving them alone and making them, hopefully, looking forward to these activities.
Ask Alexa to play relaxing music such as reggae, smooth jazz, or classical, or turn on their favorite show on Netflix. This can help mitigate being alerted to outside noise.
Start rewarding your dog for calm, independent behavior, especially if they’re usually clingy. Often we as owners pay a lot of attention to dogs when they’re actively playing and misbehaving. Instead, start praising your pet calmly, for being calm and chill.
Practice leaving for short periods of time to run essential errands or go for a walk, check the mail, etc.
If your dog starts to 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 do virtual consultations.
More than 1 in 10 cats suffer from separation anxiety
Although our feline fur-babies might be categorized as being more self-reliant and distant, they too can exhibit separation anxiety. More than 13% of cats have exhibited symptoms of separation anxiety, according to a 2020 study, published in the open-access journal PLOS One.
Signs that your cat may be suffering from separation anxiety include:
Eliminating on their owner’s items. Despite seeming like rebellious and horrible behavior - this is actually your cat’s way of trying to mix their scents with yours.
Some ways to help your cat with separation anxiety:
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 four 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, providing enrichment and mental stimulation while eliminating food aggression.
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.
If your pet is not responding, rather than wait and hope that their separation anxiety will alleviate with time, consult with animal behaviorists to customize a training program unique to your pet. You can also always look into hiring a caring, professional pet sitter to visit with your pet and walk or feed them and give them much needed attention while you’re away.
Pets and People, Saving Each Other™
HSNT’s mission is to act as an advocate on behalf of all animals and to ensure their legal, moral and ethical consideration and protection; to provide for the well-being of animals who are abandoned, injured, neglected, mistreated or otherwise in need; to promote an appreciation of animals; and to instill respect for all living things.
Sources for this blog post provided by:
The New York Times:
Our Fit Pets.com: