Returning to work after COVID-19 - without pet anxiety

by PetCloud / Pet Owner Advice / 20 May 2020

Dog chewing furniture

Your pets will have enjoyed the increased quality time and company from you over the lock-down period, and we’re sure you will have to, especially if it’s been a recent kitten or puppy adoption. However as normality starts to return, how can you ease pet anxiety from separation, which may manifest in unwanted behaviour while you’re out at work all day?


We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel with COVID-19 as restrictions starting to ease. Many of us will gradually start returning to work in the coming months, which is great news for most of us. However sadly not for your pets, especially dogs.

We’re sure your pet has enjoyed your company during lock-down, and they’ve been a welcome companion in what has been a lonely few months - even if they have interrupted a few conference calls! However there is a concern that pets are going to struggle to cope as we return to work.

All pets, dogs in particular, are likely to have grown used to increased attention and companionship, and a sudden loss of this company could cause separation anxiety. Separation anxiety (also called ‘separation related behaviour’ or ‘SRB’) is when an animal starts showing signs like excessive barking, unwanted toileting, and destructive behaviour, because they are feeling distressed when they are separated from their owner.

My neighbours are complaining my dog is barking

If you start to receive new complaints after you return to work or have seen unusual unwanted behaviour, this could mean your dog is suffering from separation anxiety.
Symptoms for dogs include:

  • Barking or howling when you’re not home
  • Panting and pacing (even when it's not hot)
  • Shivering
  • Running away and/or cowering in the corner of a house
  • Digging
  • Escaping the yard
  • Destroying furniture
  • Self-harm, including excessive licking or chewing
  • Not eating
  • Urinating more frequently
  • A general inability to settle
  • Following owners from room to room when you are home

What can you do to help an anxious dog?
Firstly, it’s important to try to prevent the anxiety, or to catch and rectify any behaviour in the early stages before it gets worse.
Here are some tips for preventing anxiety and supporting an anxious dog:

  • Gradually increase the time they spend alone
    As you start preparing for the return to work, develop a routine and increase the time your dog spends alone while you are home. You can also consider ‘Desensitisation Training’ which reassures them it’s ok to be on their own.
  • When you do leave your dog don’t make a fuss when you go out the door, or when you return home
    It is important to not make a celebration of your departure or return, if your dog gets too excited of your comings and goings they will think it is something to be worried about.
  • Set up a treasure hunt and give them toys
    Hide treats around the house and garden to give your dog an activity to do while you are out of the house. A toy that makes them work for a treat is good too and provides opportunity for self-directed play. Be sure to take these treats out of your pet’s daily food allowance though. We don't want them gaining a few extra KGs!
  • Book a PetCloud Home Visit or PetCloud Daily Walk
    If you know you’re going to be out of the house for a long period of time, booking a PetCloud pet sitter to check in on them or to walk them is a great idea
  • Book PetCloud Day Care
    You can book someone to look after your dog while you’re not home and you don’t have to worry about them being on their own for a long period of time
  • Set up a petcam 
    Unless you’ve received complaints, you might not know if your pet is anxious while you’re not there. Some high end ones also offer functionality like allowing you to talk to your pet or dispense treats
  • Behavioural training
    If the anxiety has become more serious you might want to look into a behavioural training course - search for a PetCloud trainer in your area or if you’d prefer an online course try the RSPCA QLD’s School for Dogs

Do cats suffer from separation anxiety too?
Yes. If cats are indoor cats and spend the day on their own, they can suffer from anxiety too.

Signs include:

  • Excessive crying, moaning and meowing
  • Not eating or drinking while you are away
  • Urinating in inappropriate places
  • Excessive self-grooming
  • Over-the-top greetings when you return home
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Vomiting

Tips for supporting cats and anxiety

  • Provide perches so your cat can look outside
  • Toys, toys and more toys
  • Cats love to “hunt” - get them a toy that makes them work to get the food out
  • Cats too enjoy a treat treasure hunt
  • Leave the radio or TV on, tuned to your usual station
  • Spend at least 10 minutes daily playing with your cat
  • Book a PetCloud Home Visit and get a trusted pet sitter to come and spend some time playing with your cat
  • Book PetCloud Day Care so you don’t have to worry about your cat being on their own

Why managing anxiety is important for reducing shelter surrenders
The COVID-19 period has seen a spike in new pet adoptions too. With some shelters reporting 20 times more adoption applications than their usual daily total.

This is amazing news that so many pets have found a new loving home. However we need to manage the wave of potential surrenders that might surge when we start to return to normality. One reason for this is many owners will see the symptoms of pet separation anxiety, such as destructive behaviour and barking, and if poorly managed, feel they have no option but to surrender their new pet because they can’t cope.

At PetCloud, with RSPCA QLD as our partner, we want to make sure as many pets as possible stay in their forever home, and are committed to supporting responsible pet ownership. 

If you need help with your pet, post a job today.