Separation anxiety in pets and their working owners

There are many reasons why we sometimes have to be away from our pets; a busy schedule, returning to the office after working from home, after-school activities with the kids and weekend sports – the list goes on! But while your friends and family might understand your busy schedule, your pets won’t, and sometimes they miss us when we are gone. Separation anxiety is a reality for many pets around the world. Here are some tips for how to deal with it.

What is separation anxiety in pets and what causes it?

Both dogs and cats can experience separation anxiety, and it’s considered a learnt trait that develops after their human owner leaves for an extended period of time – such as when you head into the office, or when you leave them in the backyard while you work remotely, or are out doing other things, such as picking your kids up from school or attending to other family responsibilities.

Your pet may display symptoms of separation anxiety in a number of ways depending on their personality type and their home environment. Common signs in dogs are barking, fence-jumping and destructive behaviour like digging holes or destroying things around your house. Sometimes this can be a sign of simple boredom, but if you have explored how to rectify that and the problem persists, separation anxiety is something you might consider as a potential cause of the behaviour. Cats often display some similar patterns to dogs (such as destroying or damaging furniture), or they might have signs unique to them, such as excessive grooming or excessive meowing.

How common is pet separation anxiety?

Unfortunately, separation anxiety is quite common, especially in pets that have spent the majority of their lives with a human close-by. They rely on this close contact not only for food and shelter, but for playtime, pats and for their ongoing wellbeing.

The problem for many pet owners in Australia right now is that they have spent the past two years working from home rather than in an office. Pets become used to a routine of you always being around. They absolutely love spending that extra time with you, and they don’t want things to go back to the way they were. So it’s unsurprising that they become anxious or agitated when you eventually leave for long periods of the day.

The solution? While you may not be able to get your dog or cat to enjoy the time you are away from home, or when you are spending hours in your home office in a lengthy Zoom meeting, you can train them to tolerate their alone time, leaving them far less anxious and less likely to be depressed or destructive. The first thing you need to do, however, is spot the signs of pet separation anxiety.

What are the most common signs of separation anxiety?

If your pet is experiencing separation anxiety, you will absolutely know something is wrong from the way they act while you are away from home or busy inside. Depending on your dog or cat’s temperament, it may manifest in different ways:

  • General destruction of their environment
  • Jumping the fence
  • Incessant barking or meowing to get your attention
  • Pacing so much that they leave patterns in the ground
  • Urinating or defecating (if the pet is kept inside)

How can you treat separation anxiety in cats and dogs?

Whether it’s something as drastic as a change in their guardianship (i.e. being given up by their previous owners) or something as simple as you heading back to the office after an extended period of remote work, separation anxiety can and should be treated. The first step is to rule out other possible contributors, such as fear of reprimand (urinating in the house), poor house training (chewing and generally being destructive), or lack of stimulation resulting in bad behaviour. For more serious instances of separation anxiety, it’s recommended that you speak to your vet or work with a behaviourist to slowly condition your pet over days and weeks.

One useful tip you can try is to aim to keep your pet as occupied as you can when you are away. You can do things like getting extra toys for them to play with outside –even putting treats inside a “puzzle” toy can keep them entertained for hours. Cats also enjoy toys, and there are cat puzzle games available for them too.

As well as this, if you can, ensure that they have burnt some energy before you leave so that they might be more inclined to take a nap. A long walk or an active game of fetch at the park can significantly reduce a dog’s energy levels, or for cats, having access to a cat run could be useful (and encourage them to use it!)

Every dog and cat is different, so keep trying if one solution doesn’t seem to work. It takes time to get your pet adjusted to a new routine, but with patience and consistency, they will soon be able to be left alone all day without you worrying about coming home to a highly anxious pet.

Don’t be disheartened if it takes some time for your pet to overcome their separation anxiety. In the meantime, help make sure you are financially protected against unexpected costs associated with illnesses and injuries by taking out pet insurance. It’s so easy with Guardian Insurance, so get a quote online or call 1300 709 560 today.