For many of us, our pets have grown accustomed to our working-from-home schedule since the beginning of the pandemic, and they’ve never been happier. They’ve become used to 24/7 belly rubs and hugs. As a result, some pets may have become more clingy than usual, and if you’ve added a new pet to your family, being around you all the time is the only routine they’ve ever known.
Going back to your workplace isn’t just a transition for you, it’s also an adjustment for your pets. Most cats and dogs are creatures of habit, and when you return to your workplace their routines will have to adjust yet again, which can cause stress and separation anxiety.
Whether you have days or weeks to prepare, here are some tips on how best to manage a smooth and stress-free transition for them — and for you.
Slowly ease your pets into their new daily routine
Pets need to relearn what it’s like to be left alone while you’re at work. Practice your new schedule, leaving the house first for a few minutes, gradually extending the time to as much as one hour. If you would normally take your dog out for a morning walk before work, start this routine again at the same time every day. If you brushed your cat or played with her, begin these activities again, as pets notice these rituals. Make the process as relaxing as possible and keep your voice calm and reassuring.
Introduce a regular feeding schedule
If you’ve changed their feeding schedule and have been giving them food and treats more frequently than usual, now is the time to get back on track. Slowly reintroduce regular feeding times you can maintain, like before you leave and when you get home from work.
Plan activities they can do independently
If your pets will be home alone while you’re at work, leave out toys and activities they can do on their own, like a long-lasting chew toy for a dog or an interactive toy for a cat. It’s important that pets learn to occupy their time on their own when you’re not home. Studies have shown that listening to soft rock, classical, and reggae music causes dogs to be more relaxed, so you might want to try leaving some low volume tunes on for your pooch. Cats have been shown to be attracted to the quick movements of birds, rodents and fish on TV, so leaving an animal show on for your kitty to watch may help keep her company and distracted from the fact that you aren’t there.
What to do if your pet shows signs of stress and anxiety
In the first few days and weeks, keep an eye out for any behavioral changes. More obvious signs of stress in your dog may include chewing and scratching doors or whining and barking. For cats, loud meowing, overgrooming or excessive licking causing irritation to her skin, and urinating on furniture or clothing can be signs of stress and separation anxiety.
If you notice these behaviors, don’t despair. Pets, like humans, are amazingly resilient and there are additional steps you can take to help your pets ease back into their new routines. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends creating a safe space for your pets. If you used a gate or crate for your dog before working from home, ease back into that routine while you’re still at home. Higher energy dogs need regular exercise, so resuming a schedule with a dog-walker or a doggy day care while you’re still at home can help your dog get used to his new normal.
For cats, place a soft blanket in a favorite sunny spot, along with a few of her favorite toys to keep her occupied when she’s awake. Cats also like to explore, so a simple cardboard box or an empty paper grocery bag left on the kitchen floor can occupy her curiosity and encourage independent play.
If your pet displays stressful behaviors for more than a week, or if the symptoms become severe, consult your veterinarian right away, as some calming medications or supplements can help.