No one has been happier about you working from home over the past several months than your furry companion. Your pet has undoubtedly been glued to your side—napping at your feet while you type away, hovering nearby during lunch breaks, and enjoying more frequent trips to the backyard. But, their idyllic world may come crashing down when you return to work. Your pet thrives on routine and predictability, and your abrupt absence may send them into a tailspin. Instead of suddenly walking out the door one day, and not returning for eight hours, gradually prepare your pet for your eventual return to work outside your home by employing these five tips.
Although you vowed to stick to your normal routine, your work day may have deviated a little—or a lot—from the typical nine-to-five. If you’re no longer rising at 6 a.m., your pet’s schedule has likely also changed. Their mealtimes, walk schedule, and bedtime routine have probably been impacted, and a sudden return to your old schedule may cause your pet anxiety and confusion. Begin shifting back to your old routine, so your pet has time to adjust. Start by setting your alarm for your pre-working-from-home wake-up time, feeding your pet on a schedule, and going to bed at your normal time.
Know how the pet who was “sleeping” on the couch suddenly appears when you open the refrigerator? Your pet picks up on the activities around them, despite seeming to be half asleep, and they likely recognize the signals that you are preparing to leave for work. Your work clothes, freshly showered scent, and lunch bag can all tip off your pet that you are about to leave for the day. Reintroduce these cues slowly, and get your pet used to them—and the idea of your daily absence—again.
Your cat may be counting the days until they have the house to themselves again, but your dog may have forgotten how to spend time alone. Also, pet adoption rates skyrocketed during quarantine, and if you added a new furry family member, your new pet probably hasn’t spent much time alone, and may not adjust well when you head back to work. Get your pet used to being alone by leaving them home for short periods while you grocery shop, run errands, or simply take a walk. If you normally crate your pet, or restrict them to a specific area, when you are gone, start keeping them there while you are working from home, at first for only an hour or two, working up to your normal work day. Ignoring their pleas for attention may be difficult, but you will be helping your pet adjust to their new routine with minimal stress.
Keep your pet occupied during alone time, and stimulate their mind, by taking advantage of food puzzles, Snuffle Mats, and toys. Instead of absent-mindedly wolfing down their breakfast, make your pet work for their meal by solving a puzzle, or unearthing kibble hidden among a Snuffle Mat’s deep strands. Slather a peanut butter-and-kibble mixture, or canned food, inside a Kong, and toss it into the freezer for a few hours, for hours of entertainment. Or, hide kibble pieces, and ask your pet to sniff out their breakfast. By the time your pet gathers enough food for a meal, they will be ready for a long nap.
Separation anxiety is a common behavior condition, observed most frequently in dogs. Affected pets experience emotional distress when separated from the person they are most attached to, and often react in a destructive manner. Although your pet may not develop full-blown separation anxiety when you return to work, you should monitor them for signs, which may include:
If you recently adopted a new pet who has spent little time alone, your return to work may be the first opportunity for separation anxiety signs to emerge. If you think your pet may have this problem, speak with your family veterinarian about helping them overcome stress and anxiety.
You have loved your time at home with your trusty sidekick, but the day may soon come when you grudgingly head back to the office, so prepare your pet now, and set them up for success. If your furry friend is injured while anxiously trying to escape their crate, call your family veterinarian, or contact our 24/7 emergency service, after normal business hours.