Tips for leaving your pet behind + preventing separation anxiety
Are you going back to school or work (but your pet isn’t)?
The holidays are over for many and it’s back to school and back to work time. Regardless of the feelings this may invoke in you, have you considered how your beloved pet may feel about being left behind?
No matter what age or how independent you think your pet is, separation anxiety is a real problem faced by many pets at this time of year. It’s been compounded by a global pandemic and lockdowns that have seen us all spending more time at home than usual. If your furry friend has been used to round the clock companionship and extra attention, a sudden change to this arrangement could well bring on a sense of panic. And if you think separation anxiety is just for dogs, think again. Cat separation anxiety is just as real.
Signs your pet is suffering separation anxiety
- Pets who suffer separation anxiety may be feeling bored and unhappy, so look for indications of a change in their mental disposition or overall behaviour.
- The signs of dog separation anxiety include destructive behaviours (such as chewing furniture or doors), barking, digging, pacing, escaping, shivering or not eating.
- The signs of cat separation anxiety include toileting issues (not using the cat litter), overgrooming, hiding and not eating.
Tips on leaving a puppy or kitten at home alone
You wouldn’t leave your newborn baby alone, so don’t be tempted to leave a puppy or kitten either. Leaving them alone for too long, at too young an age can drive them to develop separation anxiety problems. Here are the general recommendations (however, you know your pet best so adjust according to their personality and progress):
Puppies – should not be left alone for more hours than their age in months. For example, a five month old pup can be by itself for a maximum of five hours. If you’re heading back to work and your dog is less than a year old, ideally make arrangements with a dog minder or daycare to avoid dog separation anxiety.
Kittens – under four months of age should not be left alone for more than around two hours. From four to six months, they can probably handle a maximum of half a day alone. After six months, they may be able to cope with eight hour absences.
The key to leaving your pet behind when you go back to school or back to work is planning ahead. Preventing separation anxiety is about putting the right measures in place early. If you do, your pet will adjust and be just fine with the new arrangements. Of course, that’s not to say the separation anxiety won’t be felt by you!
“You wouldn’t leave your newborn baby alone, so don’t be tempted to leave a puppy or kitten either. Leaving them alone for too long, at too young an age can drive them to develop separation anxiety problems”.
How to reduce the chance of separation anxiety in dogs and cats;
- Prepare them early. Gradually get your pet accustomed to being alone, initially by going to different rooms, then leaving the house for 5-10 minutes and building up to longer periods of time. Leaving them alone for short times initially helps to desensitise them. Remember that preparation may take several weeks (or months in the case of young pets) so it’s never too early to set this in motion.
- Routine. Get your pet into the routine that they will have once you’re back at work, including feeding, walking and playing times.
- Make your departure and arrival a non-event. Don’t say goodbye each time you leave and don’t pay them extra attention when you return. If grabbing your keys or putting on shoes alerts your pet and gets them feeling uptight, then do these things plenty of times without actually leaving the house.
- Toys, lots of them – leave plenty of play things for your four-legged friend, including chew toys, puzzles and ones that give treats. This can keep them happy and preoccupied which helps the time pass until they are reunited with you.
- Treat time – a treat on departure can certainly sweeten up your pet! Giving food distracts them and helps them to make a positive association rather than a negative one “I’m getting a treat and some quite time to enjoy it! ????” rather than “I’m being abandoned and will feel lonely. ☹”. Bones are great if your pet can safely handle them without supervision. Here are some tips on safely feeding bones to cats and bones for dogs.
- Safety and comfort – consider the space your pet will reside in when you’re not there and start using this. Whether it be outdoors, having the roam of the house, a particular room, a crate, a pen…make sure the space is free of all potential hazards, and comfortable. Sometimes a younger pet may feel more secure in a smaller environment. They may also benefit from having an item of your clothing (with your scent on it) left behind for them to snuggle up to.
- Entertainment – many pets like to listen to music or have the television on, as it gives them a sense of not being alone. No need to get them their own Netflix account, they’ll probably be happy with the home shopping channel or even white noise! Keep remote controls hidden so they don’t get mistaken for chew toys!
- Exercise – before you head off for a long period, make sure you physically exhaust your pet with extra play or a long walk. And repeat again when you return. A tired pet is less likely to exhibit destructive or anxious behaviours.
- Spy on them – get more information about what your dog or cat is up to via a video camera or ask a neighbour to report back if they can hear whining or barking.
- Petsitters, walkers or daycare – if your pet is not ready to be left alone for long hours, you need a plan B. Check out pet sitting and daycare services in your area, or arrange a friend or neighbour to stop in for a play.
- Water and food – ensure you leave plenty of fresh water for your pet to access (and food too if you’re planning to be gone a long time).