Preparing for our pet’s potential separation anxiety

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Illustration by Peter Hamlin.; Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — As we humans begin to return to work, behavior experts say Fido and Fluffy may struggle with separation anxiety. Best Friends Animal Society is sharing these tips on how to prepare for our pet’s potential distress.

(Photo credit: Best Friends Animal Society)

“Most pets don’t like sudden and abrupt changes. Instead, try starting now to get your pet ready and ease them back to your previously ‘normal’ routine more easily.”

Janelle Metiva, CPDT-KA & dog behavior specialist at Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles

To get dogs prepared for alone time, behavior experts suggest:

  • Create a safe, comfortable place where they can have a peaceful, relaxing alone time. This could be a crate or separate room, just make sure it’s the quietest part of the house.  
  • Provide them with enrichment that can be enjoyed independently, such as hidden treats in boxes, food puzzles, stuffed Kongs, etc.  
  • Play soothing music such as reggae, smooth jazz, or classical, or play the TV or radio to stations like the BBC or NPR while you’re gone to keep them from being startled by outside noises. You can also try a white noise machine.  
  • Reward your dog for calm, independent behavior (especially if they’re usually clingy). We tend to pay attention to dogs only when they’re active or even misbehaving. They should be rewarded for being calm and chill.  
  • Practice leaving for short periods of time to run essential errands or go for a walk: 
    If your dog shows signs of panic, decrease the amount of time that you leave, even if for just a few seconds.  
    If your dog barks or paws at the door when you leave, come back only when they’re quiet.
  • If your dog has trouble being alone for even brief periods of time – consult a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT) who usually due virtual consultations.  

Signs of separation anxiety or distress include:

  • Barking, howling, or whining when you leave (not just in response to noises outside of the home), especially for longer than 30 seconds.  
  • Scratching or chewing at entrances and exits (doors/windows) 
  • Destructive behavior that only happens when the dog is alone 
  • Over-grooming or other self-harm or obsessive behaviors 
  • A change in appetite 

And if you think cats are immune to separation anxiety, think again. 

(Photo credit: Best Friends Animal Society)

“Despite stereotypes that say otherwise, many cats form very close bonds with their humans and can become quite stressed when apart.”

Samantha Bell, cat behavior specialist, Best Friends Animal Society

According to Bell, cats that suffer from separation anxiety can become excessively vocal, overgroom their fur, or even eliminate on their owner’s items in an attempt to mingle their scents together.  “Practicing confidence-building activities and having an enriching environment can help prevent this,” she said.  

Bell’s top tips for cat owners returning to work include:  

  • Engage your cat with a wand toy at least once a day. Allowing your cat the opportunity to hunt, catch and kill with an interactive toy will help build their confidence and strengthen their bond with you in the healthiest way possible. 
  • Ensure that whatever adjustments you’ve made to their routine while you’re home are sustainable when you go back to work. If you’ve started feeding your cats 4 times a day while you’re home, start cutting it back to what is doable when you’re not working from home. 
  • If you’re not already using them, introduce puzzle-feeders to your cat. Cats instinctively want to forage for their food and puzzle-feeders satisfy that instinct while providing fantastic enrichment during alone time. 
  • Cats feed off from people’s emotions. So, when it is time to go back to work, making a big, sad, dramatic scene as you leave is only going to make them feel more stressed. A happy, light tone and a little treat as you leave will keep their spirits up. 

For more information and pet behavior tips, visit Best Friends Animal Society.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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