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Returning to the Office? These 11 Tips and Treats Will Keep Your Pets Happy While They’re On Their Own

Heading back to work and swapping sweatpants for business casual is exciting for some, but it may not be easy for our pets. Here are strategies and products that’ll help smooth the transition.

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Make the Back-to-Work Transition Easier on Pets

As the coronavirus pandemic overtook the world in the spring of 2020, the number of employed adults working from home in the United States more than tripled from 20 percent before COVID-19 to 71 percent

Since more people started “commuting” to the spare bedroom or a carved-out corner of the living room, the nation’s pets may have felt like they’d won a jackpot. Suddenly they got all of the walks, treats, snuggles, and attention that their furry little hearts desired. In addition, previously parentless pets of all kinds were adopted. In the early weeks of the pandemic, rescue organizations reported an increase in applications from would-be animal owners. 

Even though there’s a subsequent spike in the number of pet-friendly workplaces, many pet parents are returning to in-person positions and leaving their “furbabies” at home. How will our pets cope? What can we do to minimize their confusion, anxiety, and separation pain? The following strategies will help keep pets happy when you return to work.

Stay Alert for Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

Particularly if your pet exhibited signs of separation anxiety pre-pandemic, it’s a good idea to keep a close eye on Fido and Mittens. Dogs are more prone to this problem, but cats—no matter how aloof they act—also can be affected. Know that these animals aren’t just acting out to get your attention; they truly may be experiencing trauma. Learn about the symptoms of separation anxiety so you can recognize it and help your pet as soon as possible.

One solution that may help with pet anxiety is pheromone therapy. Pheromones are chemical compounds that occur naturally in animals and help them communicate with others of their species. Calming pheromones can reduce the symptoms of separation anxiety and help your feline or canine friend chill out. Both CPFK’s calming collar for cats (available at Amazon) or Adaptil’s diffuser system for dogs (available at Amazon) disperse feel-good pheremones.

Visit the Vet

As you begin to spot changes in behaviors, it’s important to rule out other possible explanations. There are myriad reasons why an animal might lose its appetite, make messes inside the house, bark more frequently, or otherwise display boorish behavior. When in doubt as to the source of a dog’s distress, don’t be tempted to diagnose them yourself or brush off these offenses as “just emotional.” There may well be a physical issue at play. Even if there isn’t, taking your furry friend’s emotional state seriously is simply good pet parenting.

Make the trip to the vet’s office—and all your future travels with Fuzzball—easier on everyone by choosing a soft-sided, expandable carrier so pets can ride in style and comfort (available at Amazon).

Transition Slowly to a New Schedule

As soon as you know your return-to-work date, take small, practical steps to make the transition easier. Start by leaving your pet alone for short periods, then gradually lengthen the time you’re away. If going back to work means that you’ll need to adjust their schedule—the daily walks, dog-park dates, or feeding times—start changing the schedule in increments. Remember that dogs are creatures of habit. Sudden shifts in their schedule can confuse them, causing undue stress.

An automatic pet feeder offers invaluable help for anyone whose work hours conflict with Spot’s suppertime. Some pet parents set timers to dispense servings of kibble while they’re at work, then supplement with wet food once they are back at home (available at Amazon).

Tech Can Help You Keep Track

To nip issues in the bud, or just to set your mind at ease, consider putting Waffles or Luna on candid camera. The simplest monitoring devices allow you to see your animal’s actions via smartphone. Some send push notifications to your phone upon detecting a dog’s bark, so even if you’re not actively listening or watching the video feed, you’ll still stay abreast of your pet’s status. 

Some pet-cam systems allow you to audio- or video-chat with your furry buddy, and others will fling a treat for your pet to catch and enjoy. Cat owners may want to look for a camera that boasts a built-in laser pointer, like this model from WOPet (available at Amazon).

Behavioral Clues in Canines

Some of the most frequently seen signs of distress or anxiety in dogs include whining, barking, howling, inappropriately urinating or defecating, destructively chewing up the couch or your shoes, pacing or moving agitatedly, and exhibiting extreme lethargy and listlessness. You know your pet best, however, so call on that knowledge as well as on common sense when watching video footage or observing a pet’s overall attitude during this transitional time. 

Has Max already made a mess? The smell of pet urine can be pernicious, not to mention stubborn. And once a pet has marked a particular area, he tends to return to that spot if his scent remains. (All dogs are capable of scent marking, but the majority of habitual markers are unneutered males.) To obliterate the odor, choose an enzymatic product such as Rocco & Roxie’s Stain & Odor Eliminator, which is also adept at removing stains (available at Amazon).

Keep Tabs on Tabby, Too

Cats are often aloof as a rule, and their behavior can be difficult to comprehend even on an ordinary day. That said, many of the symptoms of separation anxiety that dogs display are clues in cats, too. They may cry or vocalize uncharacteristically, attempt to escape, eliminate outside the litter box, groom excessively, lack interest in food, and scratch or destroy curtains, armchairs, door jambs, and banisters. 

Scratching is a natural, necessary behavior for felines, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your furniture or woodwork. Use transparent, self-adhesive protector sheets to safeguard the sofa and other vulnerable surfaces. These self-adhesive sheets from Panther Armor also come with pins to keep the barriers firmly in place (available at Amazon).

A Safe Space to Call Their Own

Whether or not you choose to use crates with your canines, you do need to provide a safe, comfortable space where they can spend time during your absence. Confining them in a closed crate or limiting them to a locked room is far from ideal. Instead, set your pet up for separation success with a dedicated bed, blanket, cushion, or corner of the home that they can call their own and retreat to when they’re alone.

Here’s how to keep kitty and pups calm while you’re away from home: Get him or her a super-soft pet bed to help them step away from overwhelming, stressful situations when they feel the need for some Me Time. This bed from Best Friends by Shari has nontoxic filling, and a removable, machine-washable cover (available on Amazon).

Reminders of You

Soothe your upset pets with sensory reminders of your presence. If possible, allow Molly or Friskers access to whatever space served as your home office; they may feel most comfortable there during workday hours. 

Leaving an unwashed T-shirt or sweatshirt with your scent on it near a pet’s bed can be a tremendous comfort to your dog or pat. Or you can do your furry friend one better and invest in the Roodie Pet Pouch Hoodie, a sweatshirt that has room for both of you. Wear it all weekend, then place it in puppy’s bed or crate come Monday morning (available at Amazon).

Keep Your Farewells Low-Key

It’s not just the pets who are affected by your absence. Chances are you’ll be emotional when you leave each morning, and equally excited to see your pets again after the workday is done. But put on a brave face and keep those feelings under wraps. When you make a big deal out of every goodbye and then rejoice upon your own return, it sends your pet the message that separation is a sad, stressful state. 

Not being able to stop, drop, and snuggle any time you or your pet need some togetherness may be a challenge, especially at first. So why not let a snuggle puppy be your proxy? SmartPetLove’s cuddly plush has a warming heat-pack insert and warmth, comfort, and cozy companionship (available at Amazon).

A Special Toy or Treat

This tip is straight from the positive-association playbook. Get Scout or Ranger a new toy that only comes out to play when you go to leave. It won’t be long before they connect this prized plaything with the times you’re away, making your leave-taking much less of a trial. Select a toy that’s both a physical and cognitive challenge—like a puzzle feeder or treat dispenser—offers enrichment, and engages bowser’s brain and distracts him from his distress (available at Amazon).

Up the QT Quotient

Spending lots of quality time with your pet when you are at home will strengthen your bond—and make it easier on both of you to be apart for those 8-hour stretches. As with all relationships, the love you feel for your animal (and vice versa) will carry you through times of trouble and transition. 

Make quality time with your pet more special by splurging on a new toy that both of you will enjoy, whether you’re headed to the dog park or just hanging out in your own backyard. Ball launchers are a guaranteed good time, as are flyer toys. Can’t decide? Go for a variety pack that will give your buddy hours of fetching fun (available at Amazon).