Separation Anxiety: Heading Back to Work after COVID-19

As many of us head back to work after weeks or months of sheltering in place, we are all looking to the future to find some semblance of normal. For many of us, being at home was stressful. Many of us were anxious about our jobs and businesses. Many of us were worried about loved ones or afraid of being exposed ourselves.  For others, the stay-at-home orders helped us reconnect with our family and refocus our attention to our homes, and in my case, our gardens.  

Being home also gave us a greater relationship with our pets.  Many of us chose to take advantage of the time at home and adopt, expanding our family with a new four-legged friend.  Pets take comfort in being with their people and have quickly learned the benefits of having their family with them all the time.  Our time at home has meant more play time, more walks, more cuddle-time, and more petting. Where we may have found ourselves at time, fearful, anxious, or stressed, our pet have been having the time of their lives.

As we return to work, our world is once again changing, but so is the world of our pets. We may find that our pets are having a harder time adjusting to our absence then we might have expected. Instead of being home with you 24/7 there may be extended periods of time that your pet finds themselves home alone.  This can mean that our pets may experience their own fears, anxieties, and stress in our absence.

There are a few steps you can take now to help with the level of anxiety that your pet may feel as life returns to normal.

  1. PLAN AHEAD: Newly adopted pets or young pets have never experienced a world where we have been at home.  Take it slow and only depart, at first for 5 or 10 minutes, then gradually extending the time.
  2. FOOD MOTIVATED PETS:  Leave out safe treats, treats that your pet loves that they now only get when you leave. A Kong toy stuffed with xylitol free peanut butter and kibble is a great option. You can also scatter their kibble around the house instead of putting it all in their bowl to let them hunt or search for treats as a distraction.  This gives your pet something positive to focus on instead of the negative of your leaving. 
  3. ATTENTION:  Before you leave give your pet 5-10 minutes of one-on-one time by playing with a ball or their favorite toy, taking a walk, some quality lap time, or even a good morning cuddle can be enough to help alleviate a pets initial stress of your departure.
  4. PHEROMONES: Pheromone scents are how our pets mark their environment as familiar.  These scents can have a calming effect on pets.  Product like Feliway for cats and Adaptyl for dogs can mirror their own natural pheromones helping to enhance their overall calming effect by making their environment feel familiar and safe.
  5. BACKGROUND NOISE:  Pets are extremely sensitive to sound.  Letting a nature or children’s channel play on your television can help reduce the likelihood that your pet may hear voices or sounds from outside your home that may cause your pet to become anxious.  Radios set to classical or light jazz or any other soft relaxing music has also been found to be calming for pets.

The main thing to remember is that our pets love us and want to be with us as much as possible. So one-on-one time whenever possible is essential not just for their happiness and wellbeing, but for ours as well.