FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4)– As our state slowly reopens, many Coloradans are starting to work less from home. That may be a welcome change to some, but perhaps not-so-welcome for your pets suddenly finding themselves home alone.
Dr. Rebecca Ruch-Gallie, a veterinarian with Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, joined CBSN Denver to discuss the concerns of anxiety among animals. She said it’s possible for pets to develop separation anxiety as their humans head back to work.
“Signs occur within 10 to 15 minutes usually of their owners leaving the premises,” she explained. “That can be crying behavior, whining behavior, barking, destruction. It can be a variety of things, but it occurs very quickly after the owner leaves.”
Dr. Ruch-Gallie said it’s also possible your dog or cat has generalized anxiety, which can occur after its owner leaves as well as after they’ve been away from home for a while.
“They start to realize, ‘Oh, this is weird. I’m by myself and I can’t manage this anymore,’” she said of the animals’ mindset. “So they start looking for outlets to relieve that behavior. Unfortunately, those are outlets we don’t want to happen in our household.”
To help your pets adjust to you no longer working from home, Dr. Ruch-Gallie suggests starting that new routine a bit early by leaving for small periods of time.
“Animals really like routine,” she told CBSN Denver’s Kelly Werthmann. “Starting that new routine early, if you can do so, can be very helpful for animals to adjust to the new norm. Even if you can’t leave your home directly right now, if there’s some way you can get into another room and be very quiet, or if you can step into a hallway or a garage, whatever that may look like.”
That advice also applies to pets adopted mid-coronavirus pandemic, for animals who’ve only ever known their owners to be at home all the time.
“Remember, we want to pair leaving with something very, very good,” Dr. Ruch-Gallie said. “Peanut butter stuffed Kong toys [for example]. Something that’s a really good treat for them to work on and makes them very excited. Like, ‘Okay, I’m getting this thing and it’s going to be okay because I’ve got it.’ Really just kind of adjusting their mindset that you leaving is actually an okay thing, and you can do that for a few minutes at a time and then come back.”
Particularly for dogs, but sometimes cats as well, Dr. Ruch-Gallie advised crate training to be a helpful option. She said it’s a good idea to teach your animal they can be happy in a crate, and now is a perfect time to start that training.
“So they can get used to being in their crate as a happy place,” she said. “That way when you go, if they are going to have problems, they’ve got this happy place to go. You don’t even necessarily need to shut them in all the time, but they’ve at least got a very warm, fuzzy, happy place to be.”
Dr. Ruch-Gallie said it’s important for pet owners to consult their veterinarian for any behavioral support. They can also provide information on trainers or perhaps supplements that can be used to help promote calming behavior.