5 Ways to help your pet adapt after lockdown

Dr Jessica May, the UK lead vet at video vet service FirstVet, shares her advice on how to help your pet get used to the new normal after lockdown.

Both pets and their owners have enjoyed the extra time that they have had together during the coronavirus lockdown. Unfortunately, as lockdown measures ease and many of us return to work, animals may find themselves confused when confronted with the absence of their owners.

It is important to remember that pets will not understand a sudden change in routine. If your pet has spent time at home alone previously with no problems, then it’s unlikely that a return to normal life will cause any long-term issues. That said, many pets will need preparation and time to make this adjustment, having become accustomed to the current status quo—and it’s always better to be safe than sorry when embarking on a major change to your animal’s routine.

Equally, if you are one of the many people that got a new pet during the lockdown, then your animal may not be used to time alone, and you’ll need to take care to make sure that your return to work isn’t stressful for them. Here is my advice for helping prepare your pet for your transition back to work:

 

For dogs…

dog in its bed

Start small: Big changes can be hard for dogs to process, so it is a good idea to start with baby steps. Instead of leaving pets alone for a full day, start by closing the door between you and your dog for a moment. Next, leave the room for a few minutes. Gradually increase this to hours, ideally over a number of weeks, until your pet is ready to spend the day alone and shows no signs of distress when on their own.

Remember, if your dog cries and you come running, they will learn that whimpering will give them what they want. Listen to the sounds they are making: are they in distress? Do they sound in pain? If the answer is yes, check on them. If not, wait a little while longer to help them to settle before returning to them.

"Making sure that your dog has been exercised can help to keep them calmer whilst being home alone"

It is important to remember that puppies or young dogs born during or shortly before lockdown will have little or no experience of being on their own. This makes it all the more important to start with small changes, to get them ready to spend time by themselves. Boarding kennels or doggie daycare facilities can help to bridge this gap, allowing them to spend time away from owners whilst still having some social contact.

Fresh air and exercise: Making sure that your dog has been exercised or mentally stimulated before being left alone for a period of time can help to keep them calmer whilst being home alone. Going for a morning walk is a good way to do this before you go to work. This usually makes dogs tired and satisfied, and less likely to experience separation anxiety.

 

For cats:

cat sleeping on sofa
Invest in toys that will keep your pet stimulated: 
Although outdoor cats are used to high levels of independence, indoor cats may need to build up more slowly to spending time alone. This is particularly important for social cats, or stress-prone cats that struggle with changes in routine.

As well as starting with manageable steps, using toys and interactive games to provide mental stimulation and exercise can help cats adapt to their new circumstances.

 

For all domestic pets…

white chubby hamster

Reduce their stress response: Addressing the physical effects of stress is another way to help pets spend time on their own. There are various (non-medicated) supplements or pheromone sprays, which can help to keep pets calm as you make the transition to post lockdown life.

Products by Feliway (cat only), Adaptil (dog only), Zylkene and Aptus are a good place to start if you haven’t used them before. To get the best results from these supplements, it is best to start using them as part of your preparation, and before you return to work.

Know the warning signs: Separation anxiety in pets can be hard to spot, but knowing the signs may help you to identify a problem early on. If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, then you may notice some unusual behaviours, including:

  • Barking for a prolonged time when you leave the house
  • Destroying objects around the house, especially while home alone
  • Self-destructive behaviour, such as licking themselves excessively
  • Changes in appetite

Cats are less likely to suffer from separation anxiety than dogs, but they certainly can be affected. Anxious cats often show similar changes in behaviour to dogs, but you may also want to look out for increased hiding from people, vomiting or diarrhoea, or increased vocalising and contact seeking behaviour.

Preparation is the best way to prevent your pet from struggling with big changes to routine as you return to work, but some animals may still be worried about the transition. If you are concerned about your pet’s wellbeing, you can contact your local vet or book a video vet appointment through FirstVet, to get professional advice on how to help your pet through changes to routine as you go back to work.

 

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