Home alone: Helping pets deal with anxiety

Oct 07, 2021 12:21 PM IST

Vets see a rise in post-Covid separation distress among pets as a growing number of people return to work. Experts tell us how to comfort pets and help them be on their own once again

Caesar the Labrador is never home alone. When he first came home as a puppy, last year, his parents were working remotely due to work-from-home routines brought on by the pandemic. They didn’t leave his side for even a second. He was a part of every celebration and sad moment. And Caesar is not an exception as he represents a host of pandemic puppies and Covid kitties that are used to lots of quality time with their human friends. Indeed, with vaccination coverage getting better and cases dropping, such pets may now need to be prepared to spend more unsupervised time alone.

As pets have got used to constant company of their human companions, it is important to ensure the transition is gradual as you step out for work (PHOTOS: Shutterstock (FOR REPRESENTATIONAL PURPOSE ONLY))
As pets have got used to constant company of their human companions, it is important to ensure the transition is gradual as you step out for work (PHOTOS: Shutterstock (FOR REPRESENTATIONAL PURPOSE ONLY))

Dr Kalpana Pawar, veterinarian, Wiggles, believes that post-pandemic period’s separation anxiety is one of the biggest concerns that pet owners face today. “These thousands of so-called ‘pandemic pets’ have never experienced a full day away from their humans,” she says.

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Pets have played a major role in the lives of many families during the past year. “Over the last 18 months, the number of pets in our neighbourhoods have increased exponentially. Deprived of human company during lockdown, we choose to turn towards our furry friends,” says Divya Singh Vishwanath, pet parent, lifestyle blogger and stylist.

“I’ve a 1.5 year old cat that I adopted in October last year. The purpose was to bring company home for my daughter. However, we did not realise cats can feel lonely too. Once things started getting normal, we realised he had lost weight and was diagnosed with anaemia. After prolonged medication, she is now doing well,” says Tanushree Roy Chowdhury, a cat mum, who is dealing with her cat’s anxiety.

As pet parents return to work, pets may be at risk of developing or displaying signs of separation distress. “Some pets cry when their humans leave but just need time and a bit of training. But some have genuine separation anxiety—to the point where they start tearing up the blinds or barking non-stop. They’re not just upset, they are terrified,” says Dr Aditti Tiwari, veterinarian.

But if dealt properly there can be a smooth transition for the pets. “If you need to step out, ensure that someone known is at home. Alternately, pet boarding facilities are also a great option,” says Kushal Chipkar, dog trainer, Wiggles.

Giving your pets enrichment toys and making sure they eat well can help deal with separation anxiety
Giving your pets enrichment toys and making sure they eat well can help deal with separation anxiety

Your dog or cat will need time to build up their confidence and be ready to spend time alone, so start prepping them beforehand. Schedule waking up, feeding and walking as you might for your expected workday routine, then introduce a consistent departure schedule that builds on that routine. “Make sure the transition is gradual. Don’t suddenly pull the plug on the attention you give your doggo. Friendly treats and toys always help calm the nerves and it’s important to make sure your work schedule doesn’t majorly affect your pet’s meal times. It is important that your pet feels secure and well fed,” adds Vishwanath.

“Healthy and nutritious food is known to calm pets. One of the most reliable and natural ways is to include Hemp Seed Oil as it has naturally calming and healing properties. Include essential fatty acids like Omega 3 and 6 in their diets, as a deficiency affects a pet’s mood, behavior and immunity,” says Dr. Pawar.

What your dog eats has a major effect not only on his health and well-being but may also give your dogs a sense of calm. “Blueberries, Turkey,fishes like Atlantic Salmon, mackerel, sardine and anchovies. Grains like whole oats and brown rice. You can also administer Bach flower remedies to your dogs under the guidance of your nutritionist or a pet homeopath, Bach flower remedies are completely natural and safe and available in good homeopathic stores,” suggests Akershika Mishra Clinical pet Nutritionist.

An exercised pet (especially dogs) will likely find it easier to relax while you’re away. Keep their mind busy with activities like food-dispensing toys—it keeps them from getting bored while you’re away. “Involve them in agility training, confidence-building exercises, teach them new tricks, get them enrichment toys, puzzles for indoor activities,” suggests Chipkar.

By adjusting our routines now, the transition back to office will be easier for pets and for people.

Tips to prep your pet

—Start practising to give them a routine and sense of predictability, taking small steps incrementally. Take walks without them and don’t take them on every car ride. If you don’t drive, find another venue to create space.

—Provide them with toys and treats to focus on while you work in a different room.

—Even if the weather isn’t good for driving, pull your car out of the parking area and sit for a while making your pet familiar with the routine.

-Leave the TV on or play music—the background noise can help soothe your pet. You can also install a camera to check on your pet during the day.

-Sometimes a blanket or shirt with their pet parent’s scent helps comfort pets, consider adding one to their safe space.

- Keep departures low key, as prolonged goodbyes may increase your pet’s anxiety. A swift approach helps your dog or cat stay calm and teaches them to worry less when you’re gone.

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