While many of us have found it a struggle to be mostly confined to our homes because of COVID-19 safety precautions, there are some among us for whom having family members constantly underfoot is their idea of heaven. We’re talking about our dogs and cats, of course.
As more and more cities and states re-open, many people will be heading back to work and school outside the home, and that’s going to be a painful adjustment for our four-legged friends.
Dogs and cats, like humans, are creatures of habit, and a dramatic shift in their routine can be extremely stressful. This can manifest in a variety of ways, including depression, separation anxiety, and even physical illness. If your “new normal” is going to include spending less time with your animal companions, take some time now to help them adjust to the change.
- Help your dog or cat get used to your absence by gradually increasing the amount of time you spend away from the house. Start out by going through the motions of departure by picking up your keys and wallet and heading to the door without actually leaving. Next, go outside for a few minutes several times throughout the day so that your companion becomes accustomed to your leaving and understands that you’re coming back. After you work up to being gone for a few hours at a time, your four-legged friend will realize that this is part of the new routine.
- Be sure your companion animals are getting plenty of exercise and stimulation. Make a habit of taking your dog for a morning walk. This may mean you have to get up earlier or skip the pre-work soy latte run or gym workout, but this is the highlight of your dog’s day—don’t skip it. Spend a minimum of 30 minutes a day playing with your cat, too. Getting plenty of exercise early in the day can help animals relax so they’ll spend more time napping and less time wondering where their family went.
- Engage active animal minds and bodies by providing interactive toys (such as a hollow hard rubber toy filled with peanut butter or a puzzle treat dispenser for dogs and scratching posts, wand toys, laser pointers, catnip-filled items, and crinkly tunnels for cats). Giving your dog or cat a treat as you walk out the door can also help ease separation anxiety by associating your departure with something positive and rewarding.
- Can’t get home at lunchtime to let your dog out? Arrange for a trusted friend, relative, or dog walker to do it. If your dog enjoys the company of other dogs, consider a carefully screened doggie daycare a few days a week. (You might also consider adopting a second animal for companionship.) Better yet, ask your employer about implementing a dog-friendly office policy.
- Cats may seem aloof to the casual observer, but they can experience separation anxiety, too. Keep an eye out for stress-related behavior, such as overgrooming, lack of appetite, or urinating outside the litterbox. These can also be warning signs of serious illness, so the first order of business should always be to get a clean bill of health from your vet. Cats and dogs alike may benefit from calming natural supplements and pheromone diffusers as well as a radio tuned to classical or other relaxing music to help keep them in a serene state of mind.
- Whatever you do, never crate your dog, especially while you’re away at work. A crate is not a “den”—it is a cage that prevents dogs from doing little more than standing up and turning around, if that. In addition to the sore muscles and aching joints that result from being forcibly immobilized for hours at a time, spending long, lonely hours in a cage will only make your dog more anxious, frustrated, and depressed.
- When you get home, be sure to spend some quality time with your animal companions. Catch up on their brushing. Watch Jeopardy! together on the couch, Play a game of fetch or laser pointer. Visit the dog park for some canine camaraderie. Take a long, leisurely walk, and let them stop and smell the roses—not to mention the fire hydrants, for as long as they want to.
And, hey, if working from home appeals to you as much as it does to your furry family members —consider making it a permanent part of your post-pandemic program. Tell your boss that a very close family member needs you at home.