• Lauren McCall

Preventing Separation Anxiety Post Quarantine: Start Planning Now

Updated: May 12

Our pets are no doubt rejoicing in Shelter in Place with all of us at home to provide belly rubs. This has been an unprecedented time novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but when the time comes for us to return to our normal lives of running around to soccer practice and meetings, it will be a hard time for pets to be left alone at home. Your pets may start to develop Separation Anxiety. In order to help mitigate unwanted behaviors and avoid the unnecessary stress, you can start taking steps now to help your pet prepare for being home alone.

Common Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

  • Urinating and Defecating in the house or crate

  • Persistent Barking and Howling

  • Chewing, Digging, Scratching and Destruction

  • Escaping

  • Pacing

  • Over Grooming and Over Licking

  • Eating their own Poop


What to Do If Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety

Counterconditioning: Counterconditioning is the process of changing an animal’s fearful, anxious or aggressive reaction to a pleasant, relaxed one instead. It’s done by associating the sight or presence of a feared or disliked situation with something really good, something the dog loves. Over time, the dog learns that whatever they fear actually means good things!


To develop this kind of association, every time you leave the house, you can offer your dog a puzzle toy stuffed with food that will take them at least 20 to 30 minutes to finish. Some toys can even be frozen so that getting all the food out takes even more of your dog’s time. There are many options for puzzle toys and Kong type toys to help you with counterconditioning your dog. Be sure to remove these special toys as soon as you return home so that your dog only has access to them and the high-value foods inside when he or she is left alone.


Provide a Safe Place: Some dogs enjoy calm, quiet, small spaces to be left along and hunker down in. A peaceful place where they can have, relaxing alone time can be their crate or a room in the house that helps them feel safe.


Give them Entertainment:

Music or television can be soothing for your dogs and cats alike. They're used to the noise when you're around and can be a great distraction of comfort when you're gone.


Give them Praise:

Start now with rewarding your dog for exhibiting calm, independent behavior (especially if they’re usually clingy). Reassure them when they're well behaved and independent of you, like when they're chilling out away from you or keeping busy by playing by themselves.


Take Gradual Steps:

Start to prepare now by practicing 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.

  • Start increasing these departure lengths gradually over time.


How to Avoid Separation Anxiety in Your Cat

Although cats can be predictably independent as opposed to their canine counterparts, Cats are social creatures who may have become more attached to you while you've been home. Cats are notoriously uncomfortable with change.


Here are a few tips on how to avoid anxiety in your cats:

  • Practice in engaging your cat with toys every day. Your cat needs the chance to hunt, pounce, and catch with an interactive toy in order to exercise mentally, physically, and feel a strong social bond with their owners.

  • Start practicing and adjusting your routine so that it is sustainable when you go back to work. If you’ve started feeding your cats at different times a day while you’re home, start adjusting it back to what is doable when you’re not working at home.

  • Start to introduce puzzle-feeders to your cat. Cats have the instinct to forage for food and puzzle-feeders can help to satisfy their need for mental stimulation and physical enrichment.


One important takeaway - do not punish your pet for exhibiting signs of anxiety. It is almost inevitable that punishment will make their anxiety worse. They are not showing their anxiety out of spite. Pets are sensitive and attached to their owners. Your pets display anxious behaviors when left alone because they're upset and trying to cope with a great deal of stress. Comfort them and take steps to help them by following some of our tips above, or if the symptoms persist, contact a trusted trainer or pet sitter to help.


By taking steps now to help your pet prepare for being left home alone in the future, you will help the transition be seamless for both you and your pets.

Thank you to our partners at Purina for providing original content used in our blog.

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