Returning the Favor: Supporting Our Pets as We Go Back to Work

For many households with pets, the stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 outbreak meant one thing for the animals: more time and attention from humans.  Maybe it meant more cuddle time on the couch, or regular sessions of fetch in the backyard. For some families, frequent dog walks around the neighborhood became a necessary respite.  Some families used this time to welcome new furry friends into their homes, and these animals have only known the “quarantine life.” For many animals, these routines and activities became their new “normal”.  But as businesses start reopening and families begin leaving the house to go back to work and school, another new “normal” will soon come into being.  Companion animals will find themselves spending more time without their humans.  What can we do to help make this transition less stressful for our friends?

First, begin preparing for a change in your routine as soon as possible, even if you are unsure when you will be returning to work. When faced with more time alone, dogs and cats can find destructive ways to pass the time.  Plan for ways to keep them safe and entertained.  Continue engaging in the positive changes you made in your pet’s exercise and enrichment routine – even if it means modifying your routine to fit around your work schedule.  If possible, consider hiring someone or asking for help, or even utilizing technology like a pet camera or remote treat dispenser, to give your best buddy the attention they have grown accustom to.  Next, practice spending more time away from your pets. Start taking more walks alone or go for a drive.  Begin with short intervals away, then gradually work up to longer periods. The key is to make these moments of alone time as pleasant as possible for your pet.

When surrounded by their favorite people, dogs and cats may not feel the need to chew on toys, shoes, or clothes laying on the floor. But when faced with alone time, chewing up those items can help alleviate boredom and anxiety. Get your family in the habit of putting these things away. Provide toys that are safe for dogs and cats to chew on and scratching posts to keep your cats from clawing on furniture. Puppies and younger dogs innately chew when they are bored. Consider crate training to keep them safe.

If you got into the healthy habit of taking a daily walk with your dog, try to work in a walk around your new schedule. For some dogs, a short walk in the morning can help stave off anxious feelings during the day. If a walk is not feasible, think about hiring a dog walker or check into dog daycare facilities near you.  Cats may enjoy watching videos of birds and other creatures or try hanging a bird feeder in a nearby window to give them something to watch. Some cats find pheromone diffusers helpful. Both cats and dogs can benefit from soothing music streaming while you are away. Pet sitters will make home visits to play with cats but, if hiring someone to help is not possible, ask a trusted neighbor or family member to stop in for a visit during the day.

Technology kept humans connected during times of social distancing, so why not use it to stay connected to your pets? There are affordable cameras available that are easy to set up that will allow you to keep an eye on your furry friend while you are away. Some of these cameras even allow you to talk to your pet!  If you are unsure how your pet will react to the new change in routine, this is one way to keep a socially distanced eye on them.

Even with planning and practice, certain animals will experience severe anxiety when separated from the humans with whom they have bonded. If panting, drooling, pacing, excessive barking, inappropriate elimination, destruction of property or attempts to escape occur, be sure to seek professional help from your veterinarian. Veterinary professionals can help assess if there are any underlying medical conditions that need attention, prescribe anxiety medication, and refer you to a trainer experienced in helping separation anxiety.

Our companion animals have supported us through the COVID-19 pandemic by giving us a reason to get out and exercise, by providing us with non-stop comic relief, and reduced our anxiety by warming our hearts with endless affection during such an uncertain time. They made life bearable for us, we must be sure to return the favor.