Return-to-office mandates mean many of us are readjusting to commutes that involve actually leaving home—and our pets. And, as we’re getting used to the new norm, our fur babies (especially pandemic fur babies) are acclimating as well—or not, as the case may be.
Claudia Prado, founder of the impact-driven pet meal service YumPup! and dog mom to an 11-year-old Yorkie, Blue, says your pet’s “bad” behavior—increased vocalization, going potty indoors, or attempting to escape—actually may be signs of separation anxiety. “Dogs may exhibit more active behaviors like excessive barking, pacing, or destructive chewing,” while “cats may become more withdrawn, hide, or have changes in their litter-box usage,” she adds.
1. Create a safe space for your pets.
Just like their “hoomans,” pets crave space to call their own. That might mean a crate or dog bed for Fido, and for Kitty, a cat cave or cat tree. It really depends on your pet. Some animals feel safer in an enclosed space, while others love to be able to observe their surroundings, Claudia says.
Whatever your animal’s preferred retreat, be sure to add a few of their favorite things—blankets, plush toys, even an article of your clothing. Prado leaves “pieces of clothing on the floor or on top of my bed (my pup thinks my bed is his bed) so he can lay on top of it and smell my scent until I get back. This way he feels I’m close and stays calm enough to fall asleep while he is alone.”
Modern Collapsible Plastic Dog & Pet Crate, $129 at Kindtail
Casper Medium Dog Bed, $111 at Casper
Boissonneault Felt Pet Cave, $65 at Wayfair
Yaheetech Cactus 42-in Plush Cat Tree, $70 at Chewy
2. Stimulate your pet’s brain.
Brain stimulation toys, like licking mats and puzzles, are a great way to occupy your pets while you’re gone and will also tire them out for their daytime naps. For licking mats, Claudia recommends using healthy foods like Greek yogurt and putting the mat at head level to avoid any neck or back issues. She also recommends changing your puzzle toy often. Pets “are very smart, and once they figure out the puzzle toy, they will be able to get to the food very quickly, defeating the purpose of the activity.”
Silicone Dog & Cat Lick Mat, $6 at Chewy
3. Turn on the TV (or some tunes).
Leaving music or the TV on can also help keep your pets occupied while you’re away. “My pup has watched Modern Family and Friends countless times,” Prado says. “At this point, he is a bigger fan of both sitcoms than me.”
4. Get a pet cam.
Pet cameras can alleviate both your pet’s separation anxiety and yours. “I love using pet cams, even for dogs that don’t have separation anxiety,” says Karishma Warr, Head of Training at Calm Canine Academy. Their go-to is this weatherproof Wyze cam, but there’s no shortage of options on the market. A camera that also dispenses treats may be particularly helpful for extremely food-motivated dogs and cats.
Like with anything new, there may be an adjustment period for your furball. Try introducing the camera at a time when you’re not leaving home, so your pet doesn’t associate it with your imminent departure.
Wyze Cam Pan v3, $40 at Best Buy
Petcube Bites 2, $100 at Chewy
5. Try desensitization training.
Speaking of departure, Warr says the best way to build your pet’s comfort with “departure stimulus” is through desensitization training. Try shutting doors, picking up your keys, changing your clothes or other things you do in preparation to leave the house—but then don’t actually leave.