With the UK government cancelling many of the remaining pandemic precautions in July, lots of people are looking at a return to office working, possibly for the first time since March 2020!
This change might have one big unexpected effect: it stresses out our pets! Since the first lockdown came in, pet ownership in the UK has boomed! Already a nation of animal lovers, surveys estimate around 2.1 million new people buying or adopting pets over the last 15 months. These new pets are all used to having their adoring owners on hand 24 hours a day: what happens when they have to be left at home for hours at a time due to the demands of office work?
When a pet is unable to comfort and settle themselves when they are left alone, this is known as separation anxiety. Lots of different things can spark this anxiety, from the loneliness itself to the change to the routines like feeding and walking times they’ve become used to.
Separation anxieties can manifest in lots of different ways – some pets will lose their appetite and lose weight, others might indulge in destructive behaviour like chewing rugs and cables and clawing sofas, others might become uncharacteristically aggressive or loud. It’s not uncommon for some pets in this position to urinate or defecate indoors – either because schedule changes throw off their usual toilet routines, or because their feeling of insecurity leads to them trying to mark out territory inside the house.
Many of these symptoms can also be indicators of serious health conditions, so if you’re worried you should seek the advice of a vet. Whether you need an appointment for a bricks and mortar surgery or talk with an online vet UK towns and cities offer several options for you.
What Can You Do About It?
The key to handling separation anxiety is to approach the big change slowly. If your schedule for feeding, walking or letting your pet outside is going to change dramatically, start early and make that change by smaller increments. Move their breakfast time by ten minutes a day over the course of a week, rather than by an hour all at once when it’s forced on you.
This helps your pet adjust, and the fact that your present as their schedule changes will help to reassure them and adapt to the change more easily.
Dogs in particular can be trained to be more secure when left alone. Starting with the ‘stay’ command, and progressing to leaving them alone in a room for short and then longer periods, and then escalating to leaving them alone in the house. You can help your dog form positive associations with being left alone using toys and tasty treats that are reserved for the occasion!
Be aware that pets have a firm threshold of how long they can be left alone with feeling distress, and if yours finds that threshold is shorter than you need to be out at work, you’ll need to make some decisions about what you can do to help them, as it simply isn’t fair to let them suffer.