There was a pet parenting boom last year—and like most of what happened in 2020, it was absolutely unprecedented.
As people began working from home and quarantining to try to stop the spread of COVID-19, dog and cat adoptions skyrocketed. More folks started fostering for the first time. And even pet parents who didn’t bring home a new dog or cat found themselves spending every waking hour with their four-legged companions. In fact, spending on pet products and veterinary care increased by $9 billion in 2020, according to the American Pet Products Association.
That’s all great news for our furry friends. But as the vaccine rollout continues to pick up speed and more states reduce restrictions and open for business, pandemic pets are in for a rude awakening. What happens to our dogs and cats when we go back to work, kids go back to school, and we generally begin spending more time away from home?
Luckily, there are steps pet parents can take to reduce separation anxiety and help their dogs and cats establish healthy, new routines. We asked some experts to share tips, strategies, and their favorite products to help pets cope with post-pandemic changes.
Understanding Separation Anxiety in Pets
Separation anxiety in pets is triggered when humans leave their dogs or cats alone. While not all pets will experience separation anxiety when their owners return to work, many will struggle.
Some adopted pandemic pets have never spent a full day alone. And even pets who used to be content home alone during the day have gotten accustomed to all the attention and having their human family members close during the pandemic.
Some common signs of pet separation anxiety include:
- Urinating or defecating (even when housetrained) when left alone.
- Whining and crying.
- Panting and drooling.
- Shaking and trembling.
- Barking and howling.
- Pacing back and forth.
- Chewing, digging, or other destructive behaviors.
- Attempting to escape.
- Not eating.
Separation anxiety in pets is often just as stressful for pet parents. Destructive behaviors can cause household damage or put a pet’s health at risk due to escape attempts or excessive chewing.
And while separation anxiety can be challenging to overcome, there are things you can do at home to help reduce the likelihood of this behavior before going back to work or spending more time outside of your home.
7 Products to Help Curb Pet Anxiety
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First things first, there are some items you can purchase to help ease your pet’s anxiety while you are away from home. Many of them are effective and safe. They range from calming treats, to puzzle toys, to interactive gadgets that keep you and your pet connected.
Here are a few of our favorite finds:
If your pet is stressed or suffering from separation anxiety, hemp oils or calming chews may help to reduce that suffering. We love the products from The Anxious Pet because they are available in different forms—oils, chews, and supplement bars—that come with and without CBD. That’s why they top our list of best calming treats—hands down. The brand’s products are all third-party tested and veterinarian formulated, so you know you’re giving your pet something you can trust. In addition to CBD, other ingredients like chamomile, melatonin, and L-tryptophan help to keep your pet at ease.
For anxious dogs, the Thundershirt is a tried-and-true product that many behaviorists, trainers, and veterinarians recommend. It’s an easy-to-use wrap that applies gentle, calming pressure to your dog’s body, which helps your dog feel protected and at ease—kind of like swaddling an infant. The Thundershirt is available in several different sizes that can accommodate dogs as small as 7 pounds and up to 110 pounds.
If you feel like your clingy feline isn’t going to handle your transition back to work well, then you may want to opt for a cat pheromone diffuser. These effective products contain synthetic chemicals that mimic a variety of naturally occurring pheromones known to calm cats. These are safe to use, easy to refill, and effective at reducing anxious behaviors such as scratching and marking. While we have a few different favorites, our top pick is the Comfort Zone Calming Diffuser Kit, which is unscented and comes with an automatic shut off.
If your dog has been lounging in a traditional bed throughout the pandemic, now may be time to consider a change. Calming beds, like the Original Calming Shag Donut Cuddler Pet Bed is specifically designed to surround your dog and provide a feeling of safety and security. It’s made of comfortable shag material and is safe to wash in your washing machine. This is a great option for dogs who like to burrow!
Both dogs and cats can benefit from puzzle toys, which provide entertainment and mental stimulation when you’re away from home. These toys often hide treats and force pets to use their paws and noses to open up compartments or get treats to fall out. While most are designed for dogs, other interactive cat toys like flopping fish toys are good options for satisfying a cat’s hunting and prey instincts.
While many anxious dogs like to burrow and will benefit from something like a calming bed, cats enjoy exploring. A cat tree, perched in front of a window, will allow your feline to climb, scratch, and safely take in all the action outdoors. Cat trees are great for a cat’s physical health and exercise, but they also provide mental activities too.
If you want to stay connected and check in on your pets when you go back to work, consider investing in a pet camera like the PetCube. We like this option because it’s affordable and offers a built-in vet chat, which can come in handy if you spot suspicious behavior while you’re away. We love the two-way speaker, too. This allows you to communicate with your dog or cat and hear barking, whining, or meowing. Plus it comes with 1080 HD video and night vision to keep the visual crystal clear.
5 Tips to Help Pets with Separation Anxiety
“While some pets may have no problem returning to their pre-COVID-19 living arrangements (in fact, some may welcome it), others will be confused—especially because we can’t explain the sudden changes,” says Gila Kurtz, professional dog trainer and co-founder of Dog is Good. “We owe it to our pets to ease them back into the routine they will need to adapt to again.”
Consider these tips and recommendations to help prepare your pets for the transition.
Re-Establish a Work-Friendly Routine
If you’ve been working from home over the past year, your routine has probably changed dramatically from what it was when you were commuting to the office. Maybe you get out of bed later, your pet eats at a different time, you go for walks or do pet playtime at different times throughout the day.
But dogs and cats thrive on routines. So, it’s important to get your pet used to your back-to-work schedule before you leave for your first day in the office.
“Start mimicking a schedule that you think you can maintain when you go back to work,” says Valerie Tynes, veterinary behaviorist and veterinary services specialist for Ceva Animal Health. “For instance, if you can’t do one-hour walks when you go back to work, start taking 10-minute walks.”
Create Safe Spaces In Your Home
Your dog or cat is probably used to hanging out with you in your home office or curling up with you on the sofa, but it’s important to designate safe, comfortable places for your pets to enjoy for when you go back to work.
For dogs, this might include a crate, bed, or gated area with puzzle toys, blankets, and plenty of water. For cats, this might be a space with a cat tree, a place to scratch, and easy access to the litter box and a drinking fountain.
Try to get your pet comfortable in their safe space while you’re still at home, or while you go for a walk around the block by yourself. Reward them with treats and praise for using the designated space.
Hire a Dog Walker or Pet Sitter
Your pets have probably gotten used to some company and maybe some extra walks throughout the day. So to help keep them exercised, entertained, and happy, now may be a great time to explore local dog walkers or pet sitters in the area. These professionals can come by during the day and spend some time with your dog or cat.
Slowly Create Some Distance
Before you head out for a full day back in the office, start to slowly get your pet used to you leaving the house more frequently. This could be for a few minutes to go for a walk around the block or a half a day as you take a safe day trip or plan an outdoor picnic. Make sure to keep exits and returns low key. Don’t greet your dog or cat with a big fan fare when you arrive home. Getting your pet used to you leaving and returning will help put their minds at ease if and when you go back to work.
Don’t Rule Out a Vet Visit
While there is a very good chance that your pet may be experiencing separation anxiety, it’s always a good idea to make sure there’s nothing else that could be causing your dog or cat’s symptoms. If you try the above tips or purchase some helpful products, but your pet still shows symptoms like shaking, drooling, vomiting, or not wanting to eat, it’s a good idea to have them evaluated by your veterinarian. Some medical problems can have similar symptoms to separation anxiety, so you can never be too safe. If your vet gives your pet a clean bill of health, and your pet still can’t seem to calm down, it’s time to consult a professional behavior consultant to help.