Separation Anxiety from Fur Babies As Life Returns to a “New Normal”
For many of us, we owe a debt of gratitude for the fur babies in our life that helped make this last year enjoyable in some regard. I know that for many stuck inside during quarantine, not having human interactions was tough. For quite a number of Suncoast residents that lead to adopting during this difficult time a furry companion to help provide some companionship. Or for some of us that already had pets, new, stronger bonds were forged as we spent a huge amount of time with our furry companions. Now, as we all start navigating back to a new normal, we look at what separation anxiety means for our cats, dogs and like that might be left behind.
I personally adopted a black lab shortly before the craziness of the pandemic closed us all indoors for quite some time. Tesla is now sixty-five pounds and profoundly attached to me as I haven’t been away from her for more than an hour or two in over a year and a half. Harley Quinn, my husky mix, also loved to get out and socialize at New College with my college-age daughter or even at various places around town with us before COVID hit. Then the pandemic saw her keeping just our family company, and now even tiny a separation from my family members cause behavior concerns. Any of you with a husky fully understand that when they want something, they are going to have it. With Harley, that is her humans, so when we can’t be around – hide the shoes!
I have, like so many others worked from home since the pandemic started, and my college enrolled child finished her collegiate career at home. Like so many of you, our dogs were the only companions besides our trio living in the house we associated with for a long time. Please remember that cats and other creatures that live alongside the humans in this world become their family. So anxiety in this changing world back to travel, workplace business, and such will be causing anxiety on both our parts and our fur baby’s.
Some pet owners may have gotten overly attached during quarantine. But these human-animal connections are healthy, pandemic or no pandemic, said Karyn Hoffman, a Boca Raton social worker and therapist. “As a dog lover, I understand this,” Hoffman said. “Research shows animals have a calming effect on us. If your animal is your companion, you are going to miss them when you leave the house.”
Spikes in adoption happened in many places where allowed during the troubling times we will forever refer to as 2020. Now post-pandemic, this leaves us with many concerns about caring for these amazing companions during a new transition. For many considering puppy daycare options, new grooming places, and even leaving your pet for the first time can suddenly cause many a fair amount of stress and anxiety to make the best choices possible for these loyal furry companions. The good news is this is all perfectly normal, and we must work to ensure that both our pets and we are cared for during this transitional time. If you are not someone that has been getting out and about already post-pandemic, there are things to consider when deciding to leave your pet for the first time.
- Look around the environment from their perspective, and ensure it will be safe. You have been there to swat them away from dangers and be a companion that fully occupies their attention. With you gone, they will turn to other items in the house to curb their boredom and curiosity, so ensure the home environment is safe.
- If daycare is an option, visit the location ahead of time – maybe a trial separation on the weekend first for just a few hours. Check out the services, staff, and other features for your comfort level and that it is a place your pet is happy. Many of our Suncoast daycares offer video camera feeds to check in on your furry companion when they are away from you. This added peace of mind for pet owners might be just the ticket they need to ease anxiety all the way around for this new change.
- Please give them a safe place to reside when you aren’t in the home during the day. Many dogs and cats love caves and their own space to go to when under stress. Ensure that if they have a cave-type bed or favorite spot, it is available to them when you experience a separation. Dogs especially like blankets and other objects to swaddle or nuzzle into for comfort, so make these available.
- Be sure they have plenty of toys and other objects to entertain when you can’t be there. If you don’t, you will find your favorite pair of Brooks running shoes a victim of their boredom.
- Freedom of a yard or bigger space to roam and play during your absence can be a positive. If they have had free reign of the house during the pandemic, and you immediately shove them into small spaces because you are gone. Anxiety is sure to follow close behind.
- Leave televisions on. Many pets are soothed by the sound of human voices when they experience a separation from their real humans in the house during these transitions.
- Of course, when you do return, reassure your pets with lots of rubs, hugs, and walks. They need the connection and added attention to prove to them that these new moments of separation are only temporary. They need to be reminded of their favorite being in the world, you, will continue to return to them after these small periods apart.
As you return to the workplace, travel, and other activities you have missed over the last year, anxiety over leaving your pandemic companion is natural. Try to ease the stress with trial separation periods, and remember this will be stress-inducing in our pets as well as ourselves. Take this transition slowly, look at it from your pet’s perspective, keep toys, cave-making items, and space available to them for their needs. If possible, keep a camera on them when in daycare to check stress levels and maybe help yours a tad. Finally, when you are back together, reinforce those bonds with long walks, tummy rubs, and many snuggles. Together we will all navigate this new normal in the most stress-free way possible.
Pictures courtesy of Angela Naff and Sande Caplin