Separation anxiety in a time of stay-at-home orders...

Allison Hartlage, CTC, KPA-CTP, CBCC-KA, CNWI
Manager of Animal Training & Behavior

We’ve all seen the jokes about how tired our dogs are of being walked and how our cats are ready for us to return back to work, leaving them to relish in the house undisturbed. While these are largely untrue (we have to believe that the majority of animals are loving this extra time with and attention from you!) there is some truth to the confusion our pets are experiencing with stay-at-home and social distancing measures in place. Even humans are confused!

To help minimize the stress of these transitions, there are things you can do now to help to set your animal up for success, for what will surely be a perplexing time for them once schedules change again. With a little planning and consideration today, our hope is that you can mitigate any separation anxiety related problems which might otherwise arise when your regular routine and absences resume.

Here are a few easy things you can do for your dogs and cats to help them navigate these transitions:

Dogs: While we don’t know what causes separation anxiety in canines, we do know some of the risk-factors, one of which is a change in routine.  To best set our dogs up for success, you should:

  1. Leave your dog alone multiple times per week – go for a walk (without your dog!), call a friend while enjoying some sun, read a book in a separate room. The most important thing is to leave your dog alone only as for long as they are comfortable.  This might be 10 minutes, it could be an hour – do what works for you and your dog. For example, if they begin to experience distress (barking, whining, pacing, etc) at 20 minutes, only leave them alone for 15 minutes and then work toward 20. If you’re concerned about your dog getting into mischief or are unsure of their comfort level when left alone, monitor them while you are away with technology like Furbo, Zoom, Facetime, or others.
  2. Set up a “fun-zone” for them in another area, but separate from you.  The fun zone might include Kongs, bully sticks, Nose Work hides, snuffle mats, etc.. You want them to know that many fun things can be enjoyed even without you there!
  3. Invest is some sturdy doggie food puzzles! Food puzzles help dogs burn energy, exercise their minds, boost their independence, and can even slow down chow hounds. (Can they make these for humans during stay-at-home orders, too, please?)
  4. Remember: you are not alone! HSBV is here to help! If you feel you need additional support or your dog already experiences discomfort when left alone, please consider scheduling a consultation with HSBV so we can support you through a virtual one-on-one consultation or check out other Certified Separation Anxiety Trainers.

Cats: Cats are also social creatures who can absolutely develop separation anxiety.  For this reason, we’d recommend a similar approach to that listed above for dogs.

  1. Time alone daily, even just while the family takes a short walk.
  2. Give your kitty fun activities they can do alone:
    •  Furry mice, foam balls, feathered objects and other toys can be left out for your cat to find. Some cats enjoy food and treat puzzles, too (read on for some suggestions)! For best results, collect a variety of toys and rotate them often.  Don’t forget to try some with catnip! 🙂
  3. Provide hiding places! These can be cardboard boxes, tunnels, or play cubes.  Consider installing cat shelves, a new tower, or a seat with a window view.  As an added bonus, you could install a bird feeder outside the window for entertainment.
  4. Engage your cat’s problem solving and hunting skills with puzzle toys, like this rolling cat feeder, or this activity center. These tools are also a great way to slow down enthusiastic eaters and keep your cat entertained!
  5. Make sure there are ample “legal” scratching outlets – scratching is a healthy way for cats to get some energy out and display natural behavior. Make sure the scratch opportunities you are providing are sturdy, tall, and a material that your cat enjoys scratching (you can add catnip here, too!). There are many homemade options!
  6. We “speak” cat, too – HSBV is here to help! If you feel you need additional support or your cat already experiences discomfort when left alone, please consider allowing us to support you through a virtual one-on-one consultation.

Thank you for your continued commitment to your pets!
We hope you’re enjoying this extra time with them as much as we are!

Mazie and her Food Puzzle