As people return to work, some pets might struggle to adjust

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As many return to the office, some pets might face separation anxiety.(WYDaily/PxHere)
As many return to the office, some pets might face separation anxiety.(WYDaily/PxHere)

While many are returning to work, pets might have a difficult time watching their owners walk out the door.

Over the past five months there has been a record of pet adoptions from shelters across the country, said Sadie Cornelius, marketing director for Canine Journal. The number of adoptions have skyrocketed because people have been home and searching for that extra level of companionship.

But as many people start to return to their offices, some of those pets might experience separation anxiety.

“So these pets might not know any different than their owner being home all the time,” Cornelius said. “Just like with anxiety in general, it’s a good idea for their mental health and overall well being to build up their confidence and have resources to feel secure in the home.”

Jennifer LaFountain, marketing director and humane education manager for Heritage Humane Society, said adopters have been asking many questions recently about how to leave their newly adopted pet at home while they’re gone. Both the owner and the pet have most likely become very attached to each other during the past few months so it can be stressful on both sides to be separated for eight or more hours a day.

The key to that transition is building up a level of comfort with separation.

“The last thing you want to do is completely change their routine,” LaFountain said. “You want to start doing a transition period as soon as possible.”

A transition period means taking extra steps so the pet gradually becomes comfortable with the separation.

That can be done in a number of ways, such as leaving for small periods of time without the pet or keeping a level of separation from the pet when working from home during the day.

For example, LaFountain said she doesn’t allow her dog into her at-home office area during the day which has helped the pet cope with the level of separation better.

Cornelius added it might also be a good idea to go for a 30-minute walk or hour-long trip to the store that gradually increases in time in order for the pet to get used to the idea.

“It’s about small increments of time in letting them be alone, even if it’s just walking around the block and coming back,” Cornelius said. “It’s about letting them know it’s okay that you leave and come back so that by the time you go back to full time office work, you can get them to a place where they feel less anxious.”

While not all pets will experience any type of separation anxiety, it’s important to pay attention for signs that they could. LaFountain said this could look different depending on the animal but separation anxiety appears more frequently in dogs than in cats.

One key thing to pay attention to is any differences in the animal’s behavior, such as a lack of interest in food.

Cornelius also said many dogs will exhibit signs of anxiety by scratching at the doors or crying.

But separation anxiety can be felt on both sides of the relationship.

Cornelius said there are many pet owners that will feel guilty for leaving their pet alone all day but there are ways to remedy those emotions.

She suggests having a small camera inside the home which will allow the owner to view the pet throughout the day as well as leaving interactive toys and treats in the house that will keep the animal entertained.

LaFountain said it’s also important to take the extra care to spend time playing with and walking your dog before and after work, which will help fight that sense of loneliness or anxiety for the pet.

For some pet owners, especially first-time dog owners, that experience might seem overwhelming. While there might be some owners who return their adopted pets, LaFountain said, it’s  more likely the owners will have built a strong connection with the animal after being together for so long.

“It’s always a possibility,” LaFountain said. “Whenever we adopt animals out, we always let people know we are available whenever they need us…so if people are struggling then we try to provide as many resources as possible.”

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