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It’s safe to say that pets have enjoyed the last several months more than their humans. School and office closures have meant extra walks, extra treats, and lots of extra quality time with the whole family. We’re much less likely to see the bright side.
While it feels like quarantine may never end, some states across the country are already beginning to loosen certain social distancing regulations. It’s a reminder that, one day, things will return to normal nationwide. When this day finally comes, many of our pets are in for a surprise. That’s especially true for all the new pets across the nation who’ve never known another routine. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, many cities have seen a spike in pet adoptions and fostering. These new additions to the family could be especially confused when lockdown orders are fully lifted.
Pet parents should use the coming weeks and months to prepare for a return to normalcy. The effort could help every species get back into the swing of things. After all, many of us could probably use some practice before returning to business as usual.
One of the reasons the last few months have been so stressful is that they’ve forced us to abandon our usual routine. COVID-19 has transformed work, school, socializing, and even leisure for people in all 50 states. The virus has changed our pets’ routine as well, and more changes are incoming as the fight against COVID-19 continues.
The Kentucky Humane Society encourages pet parents to begin gradually introducing their dogs and cats to alone time. This approximation of your normal routine will encourage them to expect your absence during certain times of the day. The process should begin with short periods of separation — a dog owner might place their dog in a crate or simply leave the house to drive around the block. As time goes on, pet owners should rehearse their workday more accurately by spending more and more time away from the house (or at least away from their pets). Upon their return, they should calmly reintroduce themselves to establish trust and reinforce the routine.
Pets aren’t just stressed without us. In many instances, they’re also bored and depressed. Dr. Meredith Montgomery, an assistant professor of shelter medicine at the University of Florida, suggests leaving pets with puzzles or food-filled chewing toys. In addition to keeping pets happy and engaged, the latter will provide an “appropriate chewing outlet.” Montgomery has also had success with soothing classical music.
Though working from home might mean new flexibility for you, it’s crucial to maintain a regular pet care routine. As your return to work approaches, this routine should begin to look more and more like it would in a world without COVID-19. Feeding, grooming, and exercising with pets at the same time each day will encourage them to embrace your usual way of doing things and remain calm in your absence.
Even after successful rehearsals, pet parents should be ready to address potential separation anxiety. Pets may respond by going to the bathroom in the house, neglecting to eat, and even destroying furniture. Though they’ve got a reputation for iciness, cats thrive on routine and grow accustomed to affection just like dogs. Dog and cat lovers alike should consider how their return to normal could represent a sudden disruption for their pet.
In extreme cases — where stress and separation anxiety are especially frequent and/or destructive — pet owners should reach out to their veterinarian. A vet may recommend anything from training to supplements or anxiety-reducing jackets. However you choose to prevent and address separation anxiety, it’s important to remember that you should never physically discipline your dog or cat. Severe punishments can exacerbate a pet’s separation anxiety and lead to worse behavior in the future.