Recently added a new furry family member? Found yourself at home more often with an older pet? It’s important to think about how a return to work might impact your pets.
Cats and dogs have different needs but they both need to feel loved and looked after as you begin to leave home for longer periods.
Preparing your pet for your absence
There are several things you can do to help your cat or dog prepare for a more solitary life at home:
1. Start leaving your house more frequently
The key is to start small. You can try standing outside your front door for 30 seconds. Then build up to sitting in your car for a few minutes or walking around the block.
This is so your pet gets used to spending time at home without you.
Gradually increase the amount of time you spend away from home. This way, you'll reassure your pets that you’ll always come back.
2. Get into a routine
Older pets have probably forgotten their pre-pandemic routines. Likewise, pets that were bought during lockdown may have never experienced life without you around all day.
To help your pets adjust, establish a routine in advance. The idea is to create a routine that's similar to the one they'll experience when you return to work.
Set feeding and walking times that will work when you're back in the office. Adjust to these new times gradually rather than all of a sudden. You can even try wearing your uniform or work clothes or carrying your work bag.
3. Reduce on-tap cuddles
This one is hard, but you do need to reduce your interactions with your pet before you return to work. This is to wean them from the constant affection they’ve been used to and to set boundaries for yourself too.
Try scheduling interactions with your cat or dog - think about when you’ll be able to stroke and play with them when you’re back at work
Consider keeping your cat or dog in a separate room - as always, start for small periods before building up
4. Give your pet enrichment and mental stimulation
To keep your pets occupied, invest in some pet-friendly toys. You can pick up old favourites like chew toys and “soft mice”, or look out for more entertaining puzzle games. The cleverly designed gadgets hide treats behind paw-friendly locks to keep pets entertained for hours.
You can get treat-dispensing balls and tubes designed to encourage slower eating and hone your pet’s mental and physical skills.
5. Monitor your pet
Placing cameras around the home can help you keep an eye on your pets while you’re at work. Look out for any signs that they’re stressed or missing your company.
Many devices come with apps so you can watch your cat or dog in real-time. Some have a two-way chat function so you can talk to your companion and listen out for any unusual howls or noises.
With the more advanced systems, you can tap your smartphone to release a scent to calm your pet, or a treat to reward them for good behaviour.
Spotting signs of stress and separation anxiety in your pet
Signs of stress and separation anxiety in dogs
Common signs of stress in dogs include:
Pacing or shaking
Shedding hair or fur
Whining or barking
Raising their paws
Tail between legs
Pinned back ears
The signs above aren't always linked to loneliness. Dogs can also show signs of stress when they are scared, frustrated or bored. Always check in with your vet as soon as possible.
However, if your dog is experiencing separation anxiety they may be:
Pacing and displaying other repetitive behaviour
Howling and barking
Vomiting and coprophagia (eating of own faeces)
Destroying household items - particularly the door you left the house from
Signs of stress and separation anxiety in cats
Common signs of stress in cats include:
Hiding more than usual
Becoming less tolerant of people
Bald patches and body sores
Runny noses and eyes
Eating non-food items
Sleeping more than usual
Blood in urine
The signs above aren't always linked to loneliness. Like dogs, cats may be stressed for many reasons. Always check in with your vet as soon as possible.
However, if your cat is experiencing separation anxiety, they may be:
More vocal than usual
Refusing to eat
Toileting outside of their litter tray
Following you from room to room
Being aggressive towards people
Sleeping more than usual
Is it cruel to leave my pet while I'm at work?
Pets can become stressed when they’re left at home for extended periods. They can harm themselves, damage objects around them and become less tolerant of their owners too.
Unlike other types of stress, symptoms of separation anxiety appear when you leave the home; even just moments after you leave.
If you know that your cat or dog will be regularly left alone you can try breaking up their day.
Is it possible to visit your pet during your lunch break?
Could a friend or family member visit your pet?
Could you invest in a professional dog walker or cat sitter?
If you’ve tried to ease their separation anxiety and symptoms persist it may be time to consider rehoming. It’s never an easy decision to make but it could be kinder to your pet if they find a new owner who can spend more time with them.
Charities like Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and Dogs Trust might be able to help.
How long can you leave pets alone?
There’s no set amount of time that you can leave dogs or cats alone. Like us, all animals are different but studies can give us a rough idea.
Dogs shouldn't be left alone for more than four hours a day.
Puppies shouldn’t be left alone at all, while young dogs up to the age of five can be left for a couple of hours.
General opinion is that adult cats are happy to be left alone for anywhere between eight and 48 hours.
However, recent studies have found that cats build strong and complex bonds with their owners. So you may not want to leave them for that long.
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