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Preventing Dog Separation Anxiety During COVID

Man and pet sitting

Written by Dr. Joan Capuzzi, VMD

Your Furry Quaranteam Members

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could tell your dog or cat, “It’s a virus that’s been keeping me home all day with you… a virus that’s been having me wake you from your naps to go on five walks a day… that’s been making me hush you up when I’m talking to people on my laptop… and causing strange delivery people to knock on our door and leave food outside…” But because of the obvious language barrier, you can’t explain these oddities to your pets! You sort of expect them to inherently understand all the COVID-19-wrought changes in your schedule, and in their lives. However, this language barrier poses the potential for dog separation anxiety in a post COVID-19 world. 

cat held by human being kissed
By this time, your furred family members have likely adjusted to the transitions that have taken place since mid-March. But this new normal is certain to give way to yet another new normal, one that will be much like the old normal — but not exactly. This will only confuse your pets even more, and may lead to dog separation anxiety. While quarantining at home has likely been a bummer for most of you, it’s probably brought comfort and joy to your pets to have more of you.
And for all the new pets that people have scrambled to acquire during quarantine, having “more” of you is all they have ever known.
But as people transition back to work, and stores and restaurants reopen, you will become a rarer commodity to your dogs and cats. Oh sure, there will be dogs out there saying, in dog-speak, “Phew, I don’t have those people making me walk five miles a day anymore.” But the pain of this separation will certainly hit many pets.

Preventing Dog Separation Anxiety When Transitioning “Work From Home” to “Home Alone”

What to do? Be sensitive. Take note of your dog’s or cat’s emotional state. Are anxious behaviors setting in? Increased vocalization? Clinginess? Destructiveness? Loss of housebreaking?

If your pet seems to be showing signs of dog separation anxiety with the transition, try to make the transition more gradual:

Have family members stagger outings so that someone is always home with the pets. Also, spend less frequent, and shorter, periods of time out of the house initially. And when you’re home, be there. Try to dedicate your full attention to your pets for a reasonable amount of time. This can include cuddle time, play time and exercise.

Also, be sure to tire out your pets while you are with them so that they sleep — rather than pine for you — once you leave the house. Of course, this is harder to do with a cat than a dog. For cats, consider allowing them to go outside (if you do not live near a busy street) when you are not home — this will distract them from your absence and certainly stave off boredom. Truly, a cat that has access to the outdoors is generally a happier and healthier cat, COVID-19 or not.

And if you are planning a vacation anytime soon, try to structure it so you can bring your pets along. Now is not the time to leave your pets for a week to rely on the socialization of brief pet sitter visits or busy kennel staff.

Be Their Forever Friend, Too

Most importantly, remember that your pets were there for you when you had nothing else to do during quarantine… ready to cuddle with you, romp with you, exercise with you, entertain you. So as quarantine comes to an end, you make sure that you continue to be there for them.

Written by author and veterinarian, Dr. Joan Capuzzi. Dr. Capuzzi is available for behavioral consultations via Hello Ralphie.

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