As COVID-19 restrictions ease across the country, it's important to consider that this can be a time of significant change for our pets.
These changes in routine can be stressful or confusing for some pets, particularly if they are used to having their humans at home all day.
For some pets who have found new homes during the pandemic, being at home on their own might be completely new to them.
The good news is there are some steps we can take to help our pets adjust to this change, so here's what we recommend to prepare your pets for the easing of restrictions and being left alone more often.
Keep a regular routine
As much as possible, try and modify your home routine to be as similar as possible to what your routine will be once you and your family go back to work or school.
This includes things like feeding, toileting and exercising your pets on a similar schedule, as well as preparing them to spend time alone.
When you do leave the house, try and make your departures and arrivals as boring as possible.
It can be tempting to shower an excited dog or cat with attention when you walk in the door, but often keeping it low key is best - this helps teach your pet that coming and going is nothing to get excited (or anxious) about.
If you're heading back to the office or spending more time out of the house, it's important to recognise and acknowledge that your pet is going to spend more time alone, so you can teach them to feel safe and happy when they're home by themselves.
You can start this straight away. Try setting them up on their own in a separate room while you're home, with something to eat and something fun to do.
If they're not used to being left alone, you can start doing this for just a few minutes and then gradually increase the time spent apart from them. If you have a dog, try taking some walks without them while they're left home alone in a safe space.
When leaving your pets alone, we recommend giving them a special treat to keep them occupied and build positive associations with being on their own.
You can hide treats for them, use a puzzle feeder and give them safe toys to cuddle, play with, or chew. It's also a good idea to rotate toys every day so your pet doesn't get bored with them.
Feeling safe and secure
There are many small changes you can make to help your pet feel more secure at home at all times, but especially when they're on their own.
For cats, making sure they have cat furniture such as elevated perching places like shelves, cat trees and hiding spots will help them feel safe. Soothing music or audiobooks may help some dogs feel relaxed and mask scary noises.
Synthetic pheromones (for example, diffusers or sprays purchased from pet stores) can help some animals - but be aware some animals won't respond very well to these.
It's very important to note that you should only use products specifically for pets - the sorts of diffusers and essential oils that humans use can be harmful to pets.
Look out for signs of stress
Even if you follow all of these tips, this time of change can still be stressful for your pets.
Looking out for when your pet is stressed is always important, but particularly during upheavals like this.
Cats are particularly sensitive to changes in routine, but it can be hard to tell when they're stressed. Look out for changes in activity levels, an increase in hiding, inappropriate toileting, changes in appetite, scratching and urine spraying.
For dogs, signs of stress include toileting in the house (for dogs who were previously house trained), excessive howling, barking or whining, destruction and excessive drooling or panting.
If your pet shows signs of stress, a vet or reputable animal trainer or behaviourist can help. You can also read more tips on our Knowledgebase.
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