Now That You’re Going Back to Work…What About Your Pets?

January 21, 2021 at 9:24 AM by Nikki Wardle

Nikki Wardle

Leaving dog at home

March of 2020 changed every American’s life in one way or another. But for pets, that month turned into one of the best months ever. Some fortunate employees were able to work from home, and their fur babies were over the moon happy. 

Thankfully, those weren't the only pets that experienced the unexpected joy of having people staying at home a great deal more. People went out by the thousands and adopted pets from local shelters, in some cases completely emptying the shelters. 

However, things are about to change in the coming months. With COVID-19 vaccines rolling out and businesses opening back up, people are going back to work in the office—leaving pets to wonder (and stress) why their humans are gone so much more. 

Signs of Separation Anxiety

Going back in to work means being gone from your home six, seven, maybe even ten hours a day. That kind of sudden change in routine can be a major cause of separation anxiety for dogs and cats. 

Separation anxiety isn't just whimpering at the door as you walk out, it's also when your pet starts displaying new and unwanted behaviors. Here are some signs your pet could be experiencing separation anxiety:

  • Urinating or defecating in the house while they are alone
  • Increased or excessive barking and howling
  • Excessive pacing
  • Sudden decrease or loss of appetite 
  • Digging, chewing, or destroying things around the house and/or yard
  • Escaping from their crate, enclosure, or yard while you are away
  • Extreme clinginess when you are around

If your pet is exhibiting any of these behaviors, chances are they're going through some degree of separation anxiety. Unfortunately, these behaviors will not just go away over time; they need to be addressed and managed long term.  

What Not to do

First, and more importantly, do not punish your pet because you think they are seeking some kind of revenge for you being gone more. These behaviors are not out of spite but instead a distress signal of sorts, a way to get your attention. You wouldn’t punish your pet for being depressed, so don't punish them for having anxiety.

Treating Your Pet's Separation Anxiety

First, get your pet into their veterinarian so that they can rule out any infection, illness. or other physical ailment that could be causing the sudden behavior change. Once those issues are ruled out, talk to the veterinarian about medical options that could help calm your pet when you're at work.  

There are some over-the-counter options such as pet calming pheromone diffusers and pet-calming treats. Be sure to ask your veterinarian about what they recommend for your pet. They also may recommend a prescribed medication such as Alprazolam, Diazepam, or Sertraline. These medications can help reduce separation anxiety, making it easier for the pet to learn new coping skills when they are alone.

Next, make sure your pet is getting plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation every day, especially for the days you are working long hours. For Fido, this means a long run or brisk walk every day before you go to work. Getting regular exercise before leaving the house leaves the much-needed endorphins in their system when you're away. For Fluffy, this could mean some time outside, if possible, or some climbing stations and play toys to keep them busy.

Pooch Power Brain Games

Canines are much like humans in the sense that if they don't get their mind occupied or stimulated, undesirable behaviors may start to develop. Thankfully your pooch has a plethora of options. Food puzzles, Kong balls, and snuffle mats are a few great options to help keep your dog's mind engaged while you are out. 

Small Changes

This is where we are going to discuss your behavior. Yes, you, the pet parent. When you are getting ready to leave the house for work, or even a short shopping trip, do you make a big deal of your upcoming absence? If so, stop immediately. The idea is to make leaving a normal thing like it is no big deal. If you treat your outings like a routine, your pet will do the same. 

Here is how to start. Pay attention to your pet's behavior when you do things like putting on your shoes, coat, or grabbing your car keys. If your pet does start to show signs of anxiety during any of those behaviors like picking up your keys, start to pick them up and put them back down several times over the course of one or two hours. Then grab your car keys, walk out the door, then walk back in the door several times.

Next, try leaving for short trips. First, a quick walk around the neighborhood, then shopping for groceries. If you are fortunate enough to live close to home from your job, try taking your lunchtime to go home and spend a few moments with your fur baby. When you are at home, try spending time in a different room than your pets. This will help them get used to your not being around all of the time.

Separation anxiety is difficult for both you and your pet. But a few simple changes can make a difference as life returns to pre-COVID-19 routines.

Topics: Pet Care, Doggie Daycare, Pet Facts

Nikki Wardle

Written by Nikki Wardle

Nikki is the marketing manager for IPH and has been writing for Intermountain Pet Hospital since 2014.