Separation anxiety and how to prevent it

Author picture Jessica

What is separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is when a pet experiences extreme stress at being alone or away from its owner. 

This can be a miserable experience for a pet, resulting in boredom and anxiety. However, it can also create big problems for an owner! Pets will express their pent up energy and fear by digging, barking, chewing, peeing in new places and scratching. At worst, a pet may even hurt themselves during a bad episode of separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety can have many causes, such as heading back to work or the start of a school term. One minute the house is filled with friendly faces, the next minute your pet is alone and bored. This is a pretty understandable consequence!

Notably, certain breeds may be more prone to separation anxiety than others. Or a pet may have gone through a traumatic experience, which can result in separation anxiety. The recent pandemic and routine of being home during the day may also contribute to some pets becoming anxious when the world opens up again.

Sad golden retriever

Why should I worry about separation anxiety?

Many people have adopted a dog or cat during the pandemic, which is great on one hand. On the other, there is a risk that our new (or old) pets are now completely used to us being around.

A big change in daily routine can be pretty stressful for an animal. As such, you need to make a plan before returning to the office so that your pet experiences minimal separation anxiety. It’s important that your pet’s health and happiness is a big consideration as life opens up again.

Prevent separation anxiety before going back to the office by following these steps:

Practice in advance

Don’t leave this till the last minute: create a steady sleeping, playing and eating routine now so that your pet will experience minimal disruption. 

In addition, you can even practice ‘getting ready; in the morning now. This is like a dress-rehearsal! Get up at your usual time, have breakfast, get into work clothes and grab your keys. Leave a kong or chew treat for your pet and pop some calming music. Start by staying home, so that your pet learns to not 'panic' when you start this morning ritual. Then progress to small blocks of time, and gradually build to longer periods. 

Be sure to remain calm and casual when practising. And never punish or yell at your pet for not cooperating: patience is really important at all times. If your pet gets too stressed, pull it back and try again later.

Plan a walk in the morning and evening

Get into the habit of playing with and exercising your cat or dog early and late in the day. This will help incorporate your pet into your routine. Plus, your pet will be more likely to rest after a big exercise session, rather than fret.

Mix it up with a little bit of training to stimulate your dog's brain and problem-solving skills! 

Dog in green field

Consider a pet sitter

It might sound obvious coming from us, but we promise this can really help your pet avoid separation anxiety. A pet sitter can check in with your pet and give them cuddles and pats when you are at work. They can even walk your dog if you run out of time.

Practice a few times with your pet sitter before you go back to work. Doing so will help your cat or dog become comfortable with their new human friend. 

Here is a guide for contactless pet sitting.