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How to cure pet separation anxiety when you go back to work

What’s the best way to treat pet separation anxiety?

You might not have enjoyed sheltering in place due to the pandemic, but your pets probably loved spending more time with you. As the country starts to open up and you head back into the office, you might be wondering how to cure pet separation anxiety due to this change.

Dealing with separation anxiety isn't a quick fix. It's better to think of it as finding solutions to help your pet become more comfortable alone instead of finding a permanent fix. Some pets — especially dogs — struggle with being home alone. You may never completely rid them of their separation anxiety. Instead, you can find techniques to manage pet separation anxiety when you go back to work. 

What types of pets get separation anxiety? 

Dogs are the animals most prone to getting separation anxiety. They're social animals who see humans as part of their pack, so they want to spend as much time with you as possible. If everyone in your household has a standard 9-5 job, a dog may not be the best pet for you unless you can afford daycare. That said, if you already have a dog and your schedule has changed, they can learn to adapt.

Although dogs are the primary sufferers of separation anxiety, cats can also suffer from it. That said, in the case of cats — who are less social than dogs — they generally become stressed by a change of routine rather than the desire to be with you all day. Once cats get used to your new routine of being out of the house most of the day, they should quickly adjust.

Signs of separation anxiety in pets 

Sometimes you might not realize that pets can struggle being left alone until it's too late and they're already in the thick of it. These are some signs of separation anxiety to look out for:

  • Excessive barking, whining, meowing or other vocalizing when left alone
  • Licking or over-grooming causing sore spots
  • Chewing and other destructive behaviors
  • Increased clinginess when you're home — always wanting to be by your side
  • Pacing, panting, hiding and other signs of stress
  • Toilet accidents when left home alone, even for a short time

Start early

If you know you're due to head back to the office relatively soon, but you're still currently working from home, start preparing your pet right away. Yes, even if you still have a few months before you return to work. Yes, even if you haven't yet been given a return date. This gives you plenty of time to ease your pet into your new routine changes gradually. The sooner you start with short periods out of the home, the easier it will be for your pet. 

Gradually increase time alone

When you have time to prepare your pet for a change in routine, the best thing you can do is leave your pet for short periods and gradually work up to longer stretches. If you know your pet has issues with separation anxiety or has never spent time alone, start small. Leave your house for just five minutes before returning. If you have a dog, they'll probably be pleased to see you, but don't pet them or give them treats until they've calmed down — try to make it seem as natural and uninteresting as possible. Gradually increase the amount of time you leave your pet alone until you can quickly leave them for a few hours without causing a fuss. 

Minimize triggers

Some pets have triggers that make the process of you leaving the house more anxiety-inducing. Think about what you usually do before leaving the house — put your shoes on, grab your coat, look for your wallet or pick up your keys. Your pet will soon associate these actions with you leaving the house, and they become triggers. Try mixing things up to avoid triggers. Put your shoes on 30 minutes before you leave the house, or occasionally pick up your keys or put on your jacket when you're not going anywhere, so it breaks the association. Your pet is less likely to be in an anxious state when you get ready to go out.

Give your pet plenty of exercise

A tired-out pet is less likely to become anxious when you leave the house than a pet that's full of pent-up energy. If you have a dog, it's easy enough to grab a harness and leash and take them out for a long walk before you leave the house. With cats, it's a bit more tricky, but try a play session with a cat wand.

Offer fun distractions

Don't underestimate the value of distractions and bribes when you leave the house. If your dog knows they'll get a peanut butter-stuffed Kong or one of their favorite treats when you leave the house, they might not mind you leaving so much. Puzzle toys are often a good distraction, such as the All for Paws Interactive Puzzle Cat Feeder for cats or the Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound Brick Puzzle Game for dogs. Just be careful not to leave your dog with a toy they might chew up if they're prone to destructive behavior.

Consider daycare or pet sitters

Some pets will never truly take to being left home alone for long stretches. In this case, you should consider dog daycare, a dog walker or a pet sitter. Using a dog walker or pet sitter for an hour daily can break up a long day for your pet and stave off anxiety. Daycare is fantastic for dogs who love socializing with others but can't stand being at home alone.

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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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