With the glimmer of returning to normal life flickering on the horizon, it is important we consider what this may mean for our furry family members. For the last couple of months, they have adjusted to full households, constant company and likely more attention as our lives have slowed down and we have self-isolated at home. For many, including Albus who has a constant case of FOMO, this new reality has been a welcome change from their usual days alone for extended periods of time whilst we work and go about our busy lives. Now, as the restrictions start to ease and people begin to return to their workplace, our pets’ lives will change once again, and they will need to readjust back to longer spells of solitude. While some will take it in their stride and others may enjoy the peace and quiet (I think many of our feline friends), there will be those that struggle with the transition and need extra consideration during this time.
There are a number of things we can do to help our pets who may find it difficult, to once again, get used to being on their own. The most important thing is to recognise that this may take time and building up to leaving them alone for 8 hours will give you the best chance of a smooth transition. Just like when they were a puppy or kitten, you should start leaving them on their own for small periods of time now, even if it is just to go down to the shops. Once they are ok with that, you can then continue to increase the time spent away. As you gradually build up to longer periods, your pet will feel more and more comfortable on their own. During these alone times it can also be a good idea to provide some environmental enrichment such as a treat-stuffed toy, food puzzle or scratching post. For some pets, leaving the TV or radio on can also help.
It is no secret that pets are creatures of habit, so maintaining the rest of their routine whilst building on their alone time will also help. Try and keep walks, their food and feeding times as regular as possible and don’t forget to continue to give them attention, love and affection. For Albus, this means still having cuddles on the couch at the end of the day once Hendrix has been put to bed!
For those whose pets are really struggling, I would encourage you to enlist the help of a veterinary behaviourist (a specialist veterinary in animal behavior) as separation anxiety is a real condition and is most effectively managed when diagnosed and treated early.
While we all navigate these uncertain COVID-19 waters, we must remember these changing times affect our animal companions too and as pet owners. It is our job to steady the ship and help them sail smoothly out the other side.
Written by Dr. Josie Gollan