With over 99,000 cases of COVID-19 since January, we have joined other nations gripped by fear and grief. But now that restrictions have eased somewhat, people are trying to establish a new normal – and pets are the first to notice. 

Some may have relished every extra moment with their special human, but near-constant attention and snuggles on demand may soon be waning. Pet separation anxiety is normal, but if symptoms are ignored long-lasting effects are possible. 

Alone, Not Alone, 

Stay at home orders caused a shift for family pets who went from spending 6-7 hours alone every day to having no time apart. Pets were immediately relied upon to boost our spirits and give us reasons to get out of bed in the morning. Pets embraced their new routines with unmatched enthusiasm.

Good Feelings

There is science behind the attachment people share with their pets. Whether human, feline or canine, just simply being in the same room together can increase the production of oxytocin, the love hormone. The mutually beneficial relationship hinges upon spending quality time together, but quantity may soon be disrupted.

Who Can Say?

Pet separation anxiety is characterized as a profound fear of solitude. Pets that are deeply bonded to a single individual or a variety of people in a household can feel very frightened at the prospect of them leaving.

Even if a pet has been alone before, they may still react adversely to sudden departures of their people. Also, many pets that were adopted right before or during the pandemic haven’t been introduced to the concept of being left alone in the house. 

A Closer Look

Pet separation anxiety can range from mild to severe. Some breeds may be more susceptible to nervousness than others, while others endured fear, abandonment or stress prior to adoption.

Signs and Symptoms

Some pets will block the exit so their people cannot leave. Others will start to pace worriedly, cry, or even withdraw and hide. If you notice these symptoms and any of the following, it’s time to act:

  • Excessive vocalizations
  • Panting
  • Peeing and pooping inside the house, or outside the litter box
  • Destructive chewing, scratching, or digging at the door or windows
  • Escape attempts
  • Excessive grooming
  • Exuberant greeting whenever you return

The Cart Before the Horse

Because some of the symptoms of pet separation anxiety can be related to other medical issues, it’s best to have your pet examined and tested. Only then can we address behavior head-on.

Handling Pet Separation Anxiety

One of the best ways to handle pet separation anxiety is to remain as calm and neutral as possible before you leave and when you return. Responding to a pet’s exuberance can actually reinforce the behavior. 

  • Exercise and feed your pet a high-value food puzzle to distract them
  • Leave quietly for 5 minutes at a time
  • Increase time away from home when you see no signs of anxiety or stress, from 5 minutes several times a day to 15-20 minutes several times a day
  • Eventually you should be able to be gone for 2-3 hours at a time
  • Stay patient and consistent; do not rush your pet into accepting their own solitude
  • Do not scold or punish your pet for demonstrating any symptoms of pet separation anxiety

It’s natural to feel concern for your pet’s safety and wellness in your absence. If you need additional help combatting pet separation anxiety in a post COVID-19 world, please let us know. We’re always here for you at Parkside Animal Hospital.