By Nicole Abrego

It’s safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down. The shift from always being out of the house during the weekdays to spending most of the past year inside our homes has been quite jarring for us humans. But on the upside, we got to spend a lot more time with our lovable pets. In fact, 2020 had seen a drastic increase in pet adoptions as humans seeked animal companions to keep them company during quarantine. In some cases, many animal shelters ran out of available pets for adoption!

Now as you and the family are getting ready to head back to work and school in the outside world, your pet may be wondering why the house is suddenly empty during the week. This can be quite a shock to your pet, especially since they have gotten used to the family being home all the time. If your pet is not prepared for this lifestyle change, it could lead to them suffering from separation anxiety while they are left alone without their humans. 

What is Separation Anxiety? What Are the Signs?

According to ASPCA, “separation anxiety is triggered when the pet becomes upset because of separation from their guardians, the people they’re attached to”. Separation anxiety can occur in both dogs and cats when they are left home alone without their owners. Some pets are not accustomed to separation from their humans and this can cause them to become distressed while by themselves. 

Some common signs of separation anxiety in dogs include:

  • Barking, whining, or howling
  • Inappropriate urinating and defecating
  • Chewing, digging and destruction
  • Pacing
  • Excessive drooling or panting
  • Attempts to escape their confined area

Common signs of separation anxiety in cats include:

  • Excessive meowing, crying or moaning
  • Eating too fast or not eating
  • Excessive self-grooming
  • Elimination outside of the litter box
  • Destructive scratching or destructive behavior
  • Vomiting food or hairballs
  • Trying to escape the home

If your pet is displaying any of these signs while you prepare to leave the home or while you’re away, they may be suffering from separation anxiety. Fortunately, there are ways that you can help your furry friend adjust to being away from you for periods of time.

Create A Routine

Our pets love having a routine. If most aspects of their lives such as walks, playtime, and feedings are on a set schedule, our pets will have an idea on what to expect at a certain time each day. This can include “home alone” time in which you and the family will be away during the day for work and school.

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You should start the “home alone” routine gradually in short time periods, as immediately leaving your pet alone for long hours could cause great distress for them. Start with short time periods, such as 5 - 10 minutes of leaving your pet alone at home. Use this time to do a walk or run a quick errand. Once you come back home, praise your pet for good behavior. This will help train them to realize that being alone is okay and you’ll always come home to them. As your pet starts to adjust to being home alone after repeating this process, you can increase the amount of time in which you’re away. Start this process as soon as possible to help your pet be well prepared to be home alone once life is back to normal. 

Ideally, you will want to have your pet’s “home alone” training to reflect the time in which the family will be away for the day during post-pandemic times. This will help reduce the shock your pet may experience when the family is suddenly gone during the weekdays when they were normally home during Covid times. Remember to be patient with your pet, as it will take some time for them to adjust to this new routine.

Play Before Going Away

Your pet having extra energy may not always be a good thing, especially when your pet is home alone. Excess energy can fuel your pet’s boredom and destructive behavior and can lead to them getting into trouble. However, if you exercise your pet and tire them out BEFORE you leave, this will increase the chances of them spending more time relaxed and too tired to stress while the family is out.

For dogs, schedule a long walk before you leave for the day. Walks are perfect for bonding with your dog and allows them to experience the outside world. You can also play a game of fetch with your pet to get them running around and burning off that extra energy. For cats, schedule playtime with them where you use interactive toys such as laser pointers or cat wands to get their bodies moving. Proper exercise for your pet will not only help curb their separation anxiety, it will also help your pet maintain a healthy weight or be a great part of a weight-loss regime if they need to shed a few pounds.

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Did Some-pawty Say Treat?

As pet owners, we all know that treats can go a long way with our furry companions. They can also be used to keep your pet occupied while they are home alone. As you prepare to make your exit, you can give your pet some treats or a toy that will entertain them while you walk out the door. A great example for dogs is giving them a frozen treat such as a kong toy stuffed with frozen peanut butter or a puzzle toy filled with small treats. For cats, you can enrich their environment with cat perches, scratching posts, and the trusty cardboard box. To make their time alone more entertaining, hide treats around the house for your cat to find while you’re away from home.

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By giving your pet a treat or toy every time you leave the house, this will train your pet to associate that they will receive something fun and tasty when you head out. Instead of your leaving being a distressing time for your pet, they will come to find that they will be rewarded with treats and toys for good behavior.

Consider Pet Daycare or Day Boarding Options

We understand that all pets are different and some pets just don’t do well in environments where they are by themselves for hours at a time. If this is the case, you may consider enrolling your pet into a doggy daycare. This will allow your pup to socialize with other dogs and spend the day engaging in playtime while under the supervision of daycare staff. You can also consider having your pet stay at a boarding facility for a couple of hours for day boarding. 

Here at The Drake Center, we offer day boarding services for both cats and dogs where they can stay at The Drake Center for the day. Here your pet will be under the supervision of our trained kennel team and be treated to individual playtime with our staff. We also have a separate facility for your feline pets so if you have a cat that may do better during the day with supervision, day boarding may be a good option for you. The Drake Center also has a team of veterinarians available to care for your pet in case your pet experiences a medical emergency while boarding.

Ask Your Vet!

If you are finding that your pet is having trouble adjusting to being home alone, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as there may be an underlying medical issue affecting them. With a physical exam, your vet will be able to assess your pet and help determine the best course of action for treating their anxiety or help identify any health concerns they may be experiencing.

If your pet is experiencing separation anxiety, please feel free to contact us or schedule an appointment here.

The Drake Center for Veterinary Care is an AAHA-accredited animal hospital located in Encinitas, CA. The Drake Center loves being a source of information for all pet owners across the country however if you have any questions regarding pet care and do not live in Encinitas, CA or surrounding cities, we encourage you to contact your local veterinarian.