In a perfect world, we’d all be independently wealthy enough to stay home with our pets or have the kind of job that allows us to work from home so we don’t have to leave our beloved cat, dog, or bird. But, we don’t live in a perfect world. Most of us have to leave for work or travel. And while we understand that the departure is temporary, our animals don’t.
If you’ve ever seen the relief in a dog’s face, been punished by a cat’s aloofness, or endured the ear-splitting cry of a cockatoo upon returning home, you’ll understand. To our animal companions, all they know is that they’re alone. “Alone” can feel scary, and that fright can manifest in behavioral or health issues.
Dogs can develop destructive behaviors like chewing, obsessive licking, or chronic barking. Anxious cats may begin avoiding the litter box. Birds may pluck or scream. In severe cases, animals can even develop ulcers.
This isn’t upsetting for your pet alone, but also for you. Here are some tips for helping your pet handle alone time:
Make leaving feel positive
Have a special treat you only give your pet when you leave. It can be a favorite toy or a special snack. Leave the television on. Consider videos designed to entertain cats, dogs, or birds. Consider a feline stress diffuser for cats.
Tire them out before you leave
If you’re a morning person, a jog with the dog or vigorous playtime with the cat prior to work can have them ready to crash when you walk out the door.
If your dog gets anxious or your bird screams, when you put on your coat or reach for your car keys, there’s a reason. It’s because he’s been watching and knows your routine. So vary it. Keep those keys in the coat pocket. Put that coat somewhere else. If you put your coat on inside, put it on outside instead. Your pet’s anxiety starts when he sees these signs of your leaving, so changing them helps.
Make homecoming less dramatic
As hard as it is, don’t immediately rush over to your pet when you walk in the door. If you cuddle your wildly bounding dog or rush over to a screaming bird, you’re just reinforcing those behaviors. Ignore your pet for about ten minutes after you walk in, then make the reintroduction calm.
Hire a pet sitter
Schedule someone to come in once or twice a week to play with or walk your pet. This is especially important if you work long hours.
Consider a PetCube or similar camera
These are great devices. Some have lasers and treat dispensers you can remotely control, as well as audio so you can speak to your pet from work.
Consult a vet if things get too serious
There are medications now that help anxious pets. If all else fails don’t hesitate to get your pet the help he or she needs.
by Joey Buchan, All Critters Petcare; Raleigh, NC
Other online articles about separation anxiety in pets: