How to Help Your Pets Adjust as You Return to the Office
A guide to easing your pets’ post-pandemic transition, including tips, tricks, and how to get professional help.
It’s been over a year since Covid-19 sent most office workers home indefinitely and now, as more pet owners return to the workplace, all the Spots, Rovers, and Fluffys out there are wondering where their humans have gone. There's no doubt that they relished the time and attention they received due to our being home more. But as dog and cat owners begin to return to the office, we cannot expect our pets to understand that it’s back to business as usual.
This is especially jarring if the dog or cat in question is a COVID pet and has never known a life when their owners weren’t home all day.
According to a study by Packaged Facts, a market research firm, the overall percentage of US households owning pets grew to 56% in 2020, with 44% of households owning dogs, 25% owning cats, and 12% owning other pets, while 35% of households adopted pets in the 12-month period ending February 2021. This means that millions of dogs and cats have no sense of what "normal" life looked like pre-pandemic.
Dr. Jo Myers, a pet behaviorist and certified veterinarian on JustAnswer, has seen a huge influx in questions from pet owners around the country about this very topic. Below are a few tips she has on how to prepare your dog or cat for your return to the office.
Top 5 return-to-work questions pet owners have
Wondering what pet owners like yourself are concerned about?
1) How do I prepare my pet for my absence?
2) What if I have short notice for going back to work?
3) What are the signs of a stressed pet?
4) What can I do to help relieve my pet’s anxiety?
5) What if these suggestions don't work?
Q&A with a pet behavior Expert
Read on as Dr. Jo gives guidance on common pandemic-related behavior to help your dog or cat adjust as you return to work
Q: How do I prepare my pet for my absence?
A: I have three words for you: routine, routine, routine.
Establishing a routine for the new normal is the most important thing you can do to give your pet the confidence to cope with this adjustment.
Enforce a wake-up, feeding, and walking routine that mirrors your workday routine. If your pet knows when you'll go and when you'll return, along with knowing when they will eat, drink, exercise, and play, they will adapt as quickly as possible.
Practice short departures daily. Start by leaving your pet for two or three hours at a time so they're not caught off guard when you are gone for eight or more hours a day.
Q: What if I have short notice for going back to work?
A: Regardless of whether you have two hours or two weeks to prepare, a significant shift to your pet’s schedule still comes with some degree of distress for them.
New pets, whether puppies, kittens, or a rescue with a history of separation anxiety, may struggle the most with this. Knowing what to look for will help you set your pet up for success.
Q: What are the signs of a stressed pet?
A: Signs of stress include excessive whining, barking, panting, or self-grooming, destructive behavior, agitation, and inappropriate urination or defecation. If you’re concerned, consider having a camera in your home that can stream to your phone or computer so you can look in on what’s happening to your dog or cat when you’re not home.
Q: What can I do to help relieve my pet’s anxiety?
A: Remain as calm as possible when leaving and returning home. If you act like your departure is an upsetting and emotional ordeal, your pet will follow your cues. With some emotional strength and confidence on your part, you can show your pet how to respond to this change.
Before you leave, help your pet release anxiety by taking them on a long walk or engage in some rigorous play. This is a great way to ease their mental stress and make them too tired to be destructive.
Consider having a pet sitter visit and play with your pet if you are unable to return home for an extended period of time.
Keep them busy. Long-lasting treats, food puzzles, and automatic feeders will help keep pets entertained during the day.
Leave on a TV, radio, or sound machine to break the silence while you’re away.
Q: What if these suggestions don't work?
A: If, despite your best effort, your dog or cat just isn’t adjusting to being home alone again (or maybe you have a new rescue that has never experienced it at all), and you feel like you could benefit from some help, a consultation with a pet behaviorist may be a consideration. Not only can it help boost your pet’s confidence, but a professional can help you work with your pet on counter-conditioning their response to being left alone, teaching them to tolerate it, even if it may never be something they will enjoy.
About Dr. Jo
Dr. Jo Myers has over 25 years of experience as a pet behaviorist and veterinarian and has been answering questions on JustAnswer since 2010. Dr. Jo is a board-certified Doctor of Veterinary Medicine who helps hundreds of pet owners a week on JustAnswer in addition to seeing patients in her private practice. Dr. Jo is ready to discuss concerns about your pet's behavior as you transition back to work and support you throughout the process.
Do you have other pet questions that weren’t answered above? Ask a pet question on JustAnswer to get a personalized response from certified Pet Experts like Dr. Jo, 24/7.