Just when you think it’s safe to leave the house and go back to the office, your dog or cat may be showing signs of separation anxiety.
Thousands of Australians adopted pets to keep them company at home during COVID last year, pushing designer dog prices up and clearing out shelters. Those special bonds are now having unintended consequences.
The Journal of Veterinary Behaviour research shows up to 40 per cent of dogs may suffer from anxiety or depression at some point in their lives, exhibiting behaviours such as increased barking or aggression, not eating, pacing, excessive grooming, cowering, toileting indoors, destroying the garden, or not able to settle and shaking.
Pet behaviourist and presenter of TV show Pooches at Play, Lara Shannon has had an influx of calls from pet owners and says the leading trigger of problem behaviour is likely to be an abrupt change in routine as owners return to the workplace.
She says pets are also responding to our anxieties.
“Human anxiety is rising and pets are reflecting that trend – if we are anxious, so are they,” she says.
“They are so used to humans being at home and any change to a pet’s environment can be difficult for them to deal with, especially in rescue animals.”
Other causes of pet anxiety can be a pet parent moving out, the death of another pet, moving home, car travel, visits to the vet and thunderstorms.
Lara says animal shelters are already concerned there will be a rise in animal surrenders if anxiety behaviours aren’t addressed. She recommends owners manage their fur babies with socialisation such as puppy preschool, obedience training and remedial care at home.
“For the next year or two we’re going to see those underlying anxiety issues come out as more people go back to work,” she says.
“People need to realise if a pet pees or defecates inside, it’s not that they are trying to get back at you for leaving, it indicates anxiety. And if a dog has done it when you are not at home, you cannot react to it.”
While doggie daycare might ease a pet’s stress, Lara suggests easing off on the cuddles to give our pets space when we are at home, so they can learn to be happy when we’re not there.
PetStock vet Dr Sasha Nefedova agrees and says starting a new daily routine of exercise and alone time will help.
“When working at home it is recommended that you physically distance yourself from your pet for at least an hour twice a day,” she said.
“Placing your dog or cat in a quiet room or the backyard, away from you and your workspace, will help them transition, making your absence easier on them.”
Enrichment toys, calming weighted blankets and thunder jackets, and playing soothing music can also help. For severe cases, Lara recommends owners seek a vet’s advice – who she says may prescribe medication.
“Even for animals that have not previously shown any pre-existing signs of anxiety, being with their pet parent for every hour of the day to suddenly only being with them mornings and nights is likely to take an emotional toll,” she says.
HOW TO MANAGE ANXIETY IN YOUR PET
– Get back to basics with a new exercise routine before and/or after work an regular feeding times.
– Monitor for symptoms of anxiety such as excess licking, lack of appetite, aggressive or destructive behaviours, toileting issues.
– Leave pets to have alone time when you are home at least 30-5 times a day. They need to get used to being on the own outdoors or in another room without you.
– Do not react or tell pets off for behaviour you have not witnessed, such as weeing indoors or chewing furniture.
– Reward desired behaviours – offer positive reinforcement and treats for good behaviour such as not barking when left alone outside.
– Book them into pet socialisation and/or obedience courses, especially young or new pets who haven’t been exposed to other animals during COVID.
– Buy a weighted pet blankets to snuggle under or an anxiety thunder jacket to ease nerves.
– Plush minky snuggle beds can make them feel cuddled when alone.
– Try pheromone sprays or plug-ins, such as Adaptil, which help calm stressed pets.
– Play soothing music – it works particularly well for stressed or foster cats.
– Give them lots of enrichment and chewing toys such as kongs, balls or food puzzles to relieve boredom and pass the time.
– Book them into a doggy daycare or cat boarding centres.
– See a vet if a behaviour worsens as the pet may require medication.
Source: Lara Shannon and Dr Sasha Nefedova
SNUG HOMES AND TOYS FOR WORRISOME PALS
Ease your pet’s tension with safe, snug beds and toys designed to lower the tension.
Here’s three of our favourites
1. Petbarn Harmony cocoon bed cat igloo in felt gray, $59.99, petbarn.com.au
So snuggly she’ll never want out.
2.Stylish Hound Forget-Me-Nots snuffle mat, $49.99
Mental stimulation eases stress for pups
3.Petbarn Harmony Cosy Cottage Dog Basket in latte, extra large, $149.
Curved edges provide security.