WITH restrictions easing, many of us are welcoming the return of more regular routines.
But for pets that have enjoyed weeks of human company, a return to being left home alone may prove more challenging.
A whopping 97 per cent of dog owners say they have bonded more with their mutt during lockdown and are now worried it will experience separation anxiety when they go back to work.
Vet Cat Henstridge – known to CBeebies fans as Cat the Vet – tells Laura Stott her advice to ensure the post-lockdown period is peaceful, not painful, for your paw-fect pets.
Cats like being alone and won’t be fazed by you going back to work – they’ll probably be glad to see the back of you.
But sociable dogs need to readjust slowly to having solo time again.
Make an effort once or twice a day to leave them by themselves, initially while you are in a different room or the garden.
Choose a time when they are relaxed or tired and encourage them into a favourite cosy spot or their bed.
If they seem distressed, comfort them, then go away again. Gradually build up time spent apart.
Animals have sensitive noses and using pet-specific cleaning products in the home can be helpful to reduce their anxiety.
Making sure there are no harsh smells will lower tension levels and allows your pet to relax. (Try Zoflora Pet Safe Home Disinfectant 500ml, £5.19, viovet.co.uk).
Keep cat litter trays clean, and for very attached pets, especially puppies, leaving something with your scent on, like a T-shirt or old towel, can be soothing.
Playing gentle music at a low volume can help to distract from any unfamiliar noises that may worry them.
There are even pet podcasts available.
Go 'back to work'
Pets who knew life before lockdown should slip back into previous family routines eventually.
Cats are already more solitary creatures, and dogs should cope well if you prepare them properly.
However, puppies that have only ever known lockdown, or dogs that have become too used to your company, may find it more challenging.
A good way to help them adjust is by pretending to go back to work. Put on office clothes or a school uniform and act out your pre-lockdown morning routines.
Go through the motions of leaving for work. Pick up your car keys, settle your pet, then close the door and leave them, even if you only go and sit in the garden or take a walk.
You might feel silly, but this can be really helpful for your pet, especially if they have only ever seen you in your “off-duty”, stay-home outfits.
When you come back in it’s vital that you wait until your pet is calm before greeting them, whether that takes five minutes or five hours.
Don’t join in OTT celebrations or encourage reunion “zoomies”, as long- term this can enhance anxious behaviour and increase stress levels.
Seek help if stuck
By taking things slowly your pet won’t find the transition back to post-lockdown life too difficult.
However, if furry friends don’t seem to be settling well and you encounter signs of anxiety, such as toilet issues, high heart rates, constant chewing or scratching, it’s worth seeking advice from a qualified animal behaviourist (see apbc.org.uk) or your vet.
A remote camera can give clues to situations you might not be aware of, such as noises, that could be troubling your pet in your absence.
Let them rest
With everyone at home constantly during lockdown, our pets may have struggled to rest properly.
Cats famously like to snooze but dogs also need up to 18 hours of sleep a day and may have found lockdown exhausting.
Sometimes pets are actually anxious because our constant company means they are over-tired and over-stimulated and now can’t think straight.
For all pets it is up to us to ensure they are not disturbed when they are taking time out.
Cats are generally good at taking themselves off to cat nap so just leave them to rest, but dogs often need a bit more help to switch off.
Don’t fuss over them while they catch some sleep and help children to understand that when their best friend is snoozing, they need to be left in peace.
For dogs in particular, lockdown may have changed their exercise routines dramatically, with some getting more frequent or far longer walks than previously.
Start to readjust this now, to correlate daily timetables with your regular routines returning.
If you normally walk your dog at specific times of the day, such as before and after work, then resume going for walkies on this schedule.
Or if you normally use a dog walker or have help from another person during the day, make the effort to introduce them now, especially if you have a pet who hasn’t met them yet.
If you are one of the many new pet owners who got a puppy or kitten during lockdown you’ve had a lovely honeymoon period to bond with your new buddy.
However, it also means it’s likely your pet has never spent any time home alone.
Before leaving you new addition solo, you must do sufficient training to ensure your puppy or kitten understands that being separated from you is OK.
With puppies, build up slowly to ensure they are happy and get used to the idea of being handled by other people and socialising with other dogs.
You can stay with your pup if they are more confident with you around but don’t allow them to be clingy and always reward positive, confident behaviour.
For cats, six months is the ideal age to start training with a cat flap if you plan to use one.
Professional help with training is now permitted again under government rules and is strongly advised.
A bored pet can be an anxious pet. If they are under-stimulated their minds wander and your home can suffer the consequences – so keep them busy.
For dogs, toys stuffed with treats, or scattering snacks into their bed to hunt, will give them something to do.
There are also tutorials online for making home-made games and toys.
For cats, include circuits and teasers to prevent your furniture being damaged.
Rotate different ones daily, so there is always something new for your pet to investigate and play with.
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