Aug. 5, 2021
Managing your pandemic pet’s separation anxiety
The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a huge increase in the number of people adopting pets. Many of these “pandemic pets” became accustomed to having continuous company and rarely being left alone for long periods of time. This constant togetherness helped them forge strong bonds with their owners.
But wave after wave of COVID variants has resulted in pet owners returning to the workplace or classroom only to revert to at-home work and schooling when new pandemic restrictions are introduced. This disruption in normal routines brings with it concerns about pets developing separation anxiety when home alone.
How to tell if your pet has separation anxiety
“Separation anxiety occurs when pets develop high levels of stress and anxiety when left alone. These feelings can translate into some undesirable behaviours,” says Dr. Serge Chalhoub, DVM, a senior instructor and small-animal internal medicine specialist at UCVM.
There are varying degrees of severity when it comes to separation anxiety, says Dr. Jennifer Richards, DVM, a former UCVM intern at the CARE Centre and owner of Sundance Animal Hospital. While some pets may be upset and follow their owners around the house to avoid being left alone, others will display destructive behaviour to their environment or themselves.
“Common signs of separation anxiety in dogs include barking, panting, drooling, urinating or defecating inappropriately, and destruction,” says Richards, who works extensively in pet behavioural medicine. “There are some dogs who panic to the point of self-injury, breaking teeth, injuring their nails, and trying to get out of the crate, room or house, depending on where they are left.”
Chalhoub says cats, on the other hand, “may be less attached to their owners, but may still display abnormal behaviours if their routines have changed.” Some behaviours that indicate separation anxiety can include inappropriate urination, decreased appetite, excessive meowing and destructive behaviour.
Help your pet by making a plan
Chalhoub and Richards recommend pet owners plan ahead and use resources that will ease the transition of going back to the workplace.
“Sometimes, we need to do some behaviour modification. We need to get the animal comfortable being alone and changing behaviour can take a lot of time,” says Richards.
Steps for dog owners may include hiring a dog walker or trainer, taking Fido to pet daycare, and creating a sustainable walking schedule that owners can maintain when they return to in-person work.
Chalhoub adds that some strategies to ease separation anxiety in cats include creating a new routine and introducing new toys that will help stimulate their brains.
“It may be daunting for some owners to go back to work and leave their pets, but there are ways to navigate the anxiety pets might develop and the last thing we want to do is give up. So, please talk to a veterinarian. There are resources we can help you with,” Chalhoub says.