After more than a year locked up in my home, when I venture back into society it almost feels as though I have the bends. I’m a little unsure, a little awkward—my voice doesn’t sound right. I talk too much or can’t find the words. I’ve gotten a little rusty in the rules of conversation. I can’t shake the feeling, accrued over the last anxious months, that human contact is somehow dangerous. The “old normal” is going to take some getting used to!
Humans are not the only ones affected by this “strange old world” sensation. Our pets have been right alongside us for this whole experience, and as the humans get back to our busy lives, it has an impact on their wellbeing as well.
Many people took advantage of the quarantine to get a pet. People who worked or traveled too much to adopt a pet saw the enforced homestay as a perfect opportunity to add a furry friend to their home. These pets don’t know any reality except for constant human companionship. And those who we’ve had a lot longer, who remember a time that their humans left the house, might have some anxiety at the thought of going back to that time. Pets are creatures of habit and routine, and changes in their life cause them stress.
Here are some tips to help your pet deal with an altered schedule.
- Start early in getting them used to spending time alone. If you’re haven’t gone fully back to work yet, and you’re still home most of the time, start leaving your pet alone for short spells. Take a walk around the block, have lunch out with a friend, take your time at the grocery store. Try to get out three to five times a day. This will get them used to your absence, and also reassure them that you always come back to them.
- Make sure they have a safe space in your home. Some dogs feel comfortable in their crate (you don’t have to lock them in) others love their bed, or a special blanket on a couch or comfy chair. Leave a t-shirt you’ve slept in if you want to give them an extra feeling of security.
- Reward them with a toy or treat when they go to their special place before you leave the house. If you hide the treat in a puzzle ball or something similar, you’re also keeping them busy and stimulating their mind.
- Hire a dog walker, pet sitter, or someone who can spend a few minutes with them during the day. Be sure to introduce them carefully and get them used to being with you as well as the helper. Many pets — especially dogs — are reacting more aggressively to strangers in their house after not having too many guests for the past year.
- Leave music playing for your pet. Something quiet and soothing. Many people leave the television on a non-dramatic channel to keep their pets company.
- Don’t make your departure a big deal. Pets can sense your stress. If heading out the door is making you anxious, it will worry them too. Don’t make it a drama or an ordeal. Just make sure they’re safe and comfortable, and head out the door.
- Make sure they get enough exercise before you leave. Play with them, take them for a run, or to the dog park before you go. Dogs and cats spend a lot of time sleeping during the day, and they’re more likely to relax and take a nap if they’ve expended all the energy they need to before you go.
- If your pet’s separation anxiety is extreme or even causing them to harm themselves or your home, you might want to look into natural anxiety remedies. You can try essential oils, such as lavender; supplements, such as melatonin, or Rescue Remedy, which is a combination of flower essences; acupuncture or massage; calming pheromone sprays, wipes, and colors; or weighted blankets or vests. Always talk to your vet before you try any of these things.
Whatever method you use, the most important thing is to give your pet all the love and attention they need when you’re home with them. And your reward is their happiness at welcoming you home from work!