Sign In

Sign In

Returning to work after COVID-19 – without pet anxiety

Our pets have enjoyed the increased quality time with us over the lock-down period. 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?

Now that the two year global pandemic and travel restrictions seems to have ended, many Pet Owners will be returning to work in the coming months, which is great news for most of us. However many of our pets will have been used to being in your company all day, every day.

Buddy interrupting a live tv weather forecast

However there are legitimate concerns that pets are struggling 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.

Separation Anxiety Symptoms for dogs include:

  • Barking or howling when you’re not home
  • Destroying furniture
  • Self destruction – in the process of destroying doors, fences, and chairs, some dogs will incur broken teeth, raw paws, and bleeding mouths.
  • Excessive licking or chewing
  • Not eating
  • Urinating more frequently
  • A general inability to settle
  • Following owners from room to room when you are 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

If your dog shows signs of any extreme or excessive behaviour noted above, it is important that your first consult with your vet a few months in advance of your return to work so that you can minimise the anxiety leading up to the change in routine.

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:

An ongoing schedule of Home Visits or a schedule of ongoing daily 1 hour dog walks 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 a PetCloud dog walker to walk them is a great idea because it releases serotonin into their brain and relaxes them, and can make them sleepy. High energy breed dogs need to burn 2 hours of exercise per day.

A high energy dog breed doing 2 hours of vigorous exercise

Ongoing Weekly Doggy Day Care
You can book a Doggy Day Carer to care 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. There may be similar dogs they can play with at the Sitter’s home.

Set up a Pet Cam 

Buy Enrichment Toys – these are interactive treat toys where a dog must work at it to get at food. So put away their food bowl and place both their kibble and treats inside a kong wobbler. A Kong Wobbler is a weighted object that stores treats that dogs have to work at to get out.

Initially, your dog may not know how to interact with it to get treats out. So be patient and sit down next to them and hold their paw and use it to push the kong over to get treats. Every time a treat drops out, praise them loudly “Good boy!” and pat them. Once they start to get the hang of it, you will no long need to hold their paw to push the kong.

Put treats inside they LOVE. Some dogs love a bit of cheese or chicken.

A dog with a kong wobbler

Licki Mat – Licki Mats are honey comb or square designs on a silicone mat where you can smear foods like cream cheese, 100% nuts peanut butter, or mince and dogs have to lick at it to get any food out of it.

The licking action reduces their anxiety, increases serotonin, and the eating distracts them and is enjoyable.

A dog using a licki mat

Stuffed Kongs
Stuffed kongs are different from Kong Wobblers. These are hollow rubber chew toys where you can stuff them with cream cheese or peanut butter. You must remember to wash these in hot soapy water after each use as they may have a tendency to grow toxic mould inside if food is left in there for over a day or few days.

A dog licking a kong stuffed with 100% nuts peanut butter

Dogs that don’t like being left alone can be given a Kong as a distraction, containing cheese or 100% peanut butter and so they can be used as a tool for mild separation anxiety as the licking action also increases serotonin from the brain.

Snuffle Matts
Snuffle mats are an enrichment feeding mat, that is fantastic for brain stimulation, slowing down fast eaters and keeping them entertained. They have to ‘snuffle’ to find pieces of kibble throughout the mat.

How to make a DIY Snuffle Mat for your dog

Buy a Pet Cam to remote monitor your pet
Unless you’ve received complaints, you might not know if your pet is anxious while you’re not there, so remote monitoring your pet might be a good thing to try. Some high end pet cams 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 dog trainer in your area.

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.

Desensitise them to leaving cues. keys being picked up, your shoes being put on, deodorant perfume being sprayed – these are all cues that suggest you are about to leave the house. Perhaps pick up the keys and then don’t leave the house. Or, sometimes leave the house, but silently pick up the keys without saying goodbye. Distract them with their favourite treat – leaving time means pleasure, not pain. Some pet owners sprinkle grated cheese through a snuffle mat just before they leave the house to distract their dog and it works well. Discover through trial and error what will work well with your dog.

The sound of you grabbing keys could be triggering your dog to panic

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 sensory nose trail with different scents. The National Association of Canine Nose Work (NACSW) uses Birch oil, Anise oil, and Clove oil. Some Canadian organizations use Wintergreen oil. The American Kennel Club (AKC) uses the NACSW odors plus Cypress oil dabbed onto a rag and placed in different spots.

Try Raw Meaty lamb or beef bones or dried Pigs ears. Good old fashioned meaty bones or pigs ears can also help. Dogs behaviour can change during the stay and can be different from a Meet & Greet. However, researching the dog’s breed beforehand and having a Meet & Greet will help you determine early on whether you, your pets, your property, and your family are a good match for the potential pooch to stay with.

Play some Calm music
Try one like this

Use a Barrier – Be resourceful, if another pet is causing them to react, can you use a barrier to separate the pets?
Use Plywood scrap, or an outdoor table on its side. Use a Baby Gate to block off no-go zones.

Thunder Shirts
Thunder Shirts works by applying a gentle, calming pressure around your dog’s torso. It’s like a “hug” and relaxes most dogs.

Pheromone Collars & Diffusers
These items mimic the pheromone that the mother dog produces to calm and reassure her puppies. Dogs recognize these Pheromones throughout life. It mimics the natural way to help dogs cope with new and fearful situations. The Lavender and Chamomile provide a soothing fragrance. There are a range of collars and sprays available from Pet Stores and some Vets have plug in diffusers.

Zylkene is derived from a protein in milk called casein. It is a capsule taken orally by pets and is an all-natural, non-sedating, drug-free nutritional supplement that can help to decrease anxiety in both dogs and cats. The active ingredient in Zylkene is alpha-casozepine. You are able to pick up Zylkene from most Vets.

Calming Chews – Complete Calm (made by Blackmores) are kangaroo based chews that contains Tryptophan, B group vitamins and a blend of multivitamins and nutrients to support the general health and nervous function in dogs. You are able to pick up Complete Calm from most corner vets.

Powders added to food – Anxiety Aid make by Rufus & Coco is a dietary supplement for dogs and cats that aids in relieving anxiety which you can add to your pet’s food. Anxiety Aid is a professionally formulated palatable powder to help relieve anxiety in cats and dogs. It contains Tryptophan, an essential amino acid which converts to serotonin once consumed; along with other B group vitamins and minerals.

Would having company help?

Balls, chew toys, ropes, these are not as interactive…
Image result for chew squeaky toy
Related image

Don’t reinforce bad behaviour, reward good behaviour
Use enrichment toys to stagger feeding (rather than a whole bowl of food).
Slow feeder – put soft mince on this and get the dog to lick it

Medication under Vet Advice In extreme cases when other non-medicinal methods have been exhausted, you may find that drug therapy may be your only solution. As this solution comes from your vets expert guidance, you should try not to feel guilty about using them, knowing that your vet always has your pet’s best interests at heart.

Vets may prescribe drugs, which tend to calm a dog’s senses a little, but they are not a cure. Drugs only provide a support mechanism to assist the owner in rehabilitating the dog, it is only a temporary fix for the underlying problem. You have to treat the root cause.

Call a Dog Behaviourist

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!

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
During the two year pandemic, Australians adopted more than 2 million pets, bringing the estimated pet population statistics up to 69% of households now owning a pet of some kind.

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 some Pet 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.

PetCloud is a National Corporate Supporter of the RSPCA and 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.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *