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How to Manage Separation Anxiety in Your Pets

With the eventual return of pet parents to the workplace after an extended work-from-home arrangement, separation anxiety among pets has become an increasingly common problem all over the world. Pets have become accustomed to the constant presence of their human butlers that when they’re left alone for the first time in a while, panic ensues!

We hope that this article will help you better handle and train your little ones to overcome separation anxiety.

What separation anxiety looks like

What exactly does separation anxiety look like in pets? Does your pet suffer from separation anxiety? Here are some ways to tell:

If you have gone out and returned to find:

  • Your house and belongings utterly trashed

  • Signs of self-mutilation on your pet’s body

  • Neighbours' complaints of painful howling or meowing while you were gone

  • Urine and poop on your floor

  • Doors and windows damaged by what looks like a desperate attempt to escape

then your pet is highly likely to be suffering from separation anxiety.

Some pets even start panting, drooling and pacing once they see their owners preparing to go out. But read on for ways to help your pets cope better with your absence.

Pug laying on the floor
Pets can experience separation anxiety in varying degrees, and the solutions you adopt would depend on how severe their cases are

4 ways to ease separation anxiety

Changes in our environment is hard for anyone, including our pets! Their lives revolve around us humans, so it is understandable that the weaning process of learning to cope with our absence could be a lengthy one, especially in pack animals such as dogs. Here are four techniques that you can employ to better manage your pet’s separation anxiety.

Note your departure cues

Pre-departure cues are a set of signals that are performed while we are preparing to go out, such as the jingling of keys, changing our clothes, spritzing perfume, and putting on shoes. Many owners have unknowingly conditioned their fur friends to associate ‘pre-departure cues’ with ‘loss’ or loneliness, which explains why some pets get so upset before you’ve even stepped out of the house!

Unlocking the door
Some actions you would definitely do before leaving the house includes picking up the house keys.

The next time you prepare to leave, make your preparations in front of your pet and study their responses to find out which cues they pay attention to. Take note of the cues that cause your pet to run up to you, stand on alert, start panic panting, or stare at you warily. Once you’ve made a shortlist of the cues that your furkid pays attention to, it’s time to desensitize them and break the association!

If jingling keys trouble them, keep picking your keys up in front of your pet throughout the day, along with other cues in random order. Do these without leaving the house several times a day on different days. Your pet would be alarmed at first, but will soon become desensitised and start ignoring them. When that happens, you have successfully broken the association!

Exercise and Play

Leaving interactive puzzle toys around for your buddy is another great way to keep them entertained while you’re away. These toys come in all forms, often hiding delicious treats to reward your pet for persevering!

Exercise and play alone will not be able to get rid of separation anxiety, but both lessen stress levels and better your paw friend’s overall wellbeing by exposing them to new environments and enriching their minds! Take your little ones on a walk every day before you have to leave, so that they can be tired out enough to have restful naps once back home, which also means less time awaiting your return!

Crate Training

Crate training is a beneficial method to minimise household damage for pets with tendencies to destroy things when anxious. It teaches them to stay in a space designated for a time to ‘nua’ (relax in). Do not put the crate in an isolated place in the house that would leave your pet feeling separated from the family, but somewhere in the space where everyone gathers. Keep these steps in mind for crate training:

Positively reinforce the crate as a safe area for your pet to spend time in by giving them their favourite treats and comfort toys that they can enjoy while chilling in there. To avoid spooking pets who have never been crate-trained, start with the door open so that they can enter and exit at will.

Border Collie in her crate
Border collie in her crate surrounded by her favourite comfort toys

The crate should be placed on a stable surface such as the ground and be big enough that your pet can turn around with ease and sit upright without the top bumping its head. There should be space for its legs to be outstretched when lying down as well.

Make sure that your fur friend can access small amounts of food and water while being crated for long hours, as well as a warm cosy bed or blanket to snuggle up in. You can even leave a piece of clothing with your scent in there to keep them comforted. Avoid giving pets with chewing tendencies easily tearable bedding material such as towels as they pose a choking hazard. Opt for a chew-proof mat instead!

If your furkid does not take well to its crate, confine it in a playpen in a selected room instead and set out a bed, enriching toys and chews for self-soothing.

While being crated, leave the room for short periods and reward your pet for staying calmly and waiting for your return. You can start with leaving for a few seconds and returning, then incrementally extending the time frame.

With your pet well trained in their crate, you will also find that they would be calmer when travelling in carriers. Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

Keep it lowkey

Pets are very sensitive and attuned to your energy and emotions, making it key that you remain calm and collected when you are departing and returning. Pets with separation anxiety get very worried for their owners in their absence, which is why they tend to greet them with high levels of franticness upon their return.

Saying goodbye and greeting your pets dramatically upon return, or kissing and hugging them could be teaching them that your leaving is indeed a worrisome event, eventually worsening their anxiety. So make sure to exit the house and return as nonchalantly as possible to teach your furry friends that your leaving isn’t a big deal at all!

Cat playing with its toy
Structured routines are key to helping your pets understand that your leaving is temporary, so keep to a scheduled plan even when inviting caretakers! (And yes, even cats experience separation anxiety too!)

More hands on deck

If your furball still isn’t adjusting well to being left alone, it might be time to get more hands on deck. Reach out to trusted friends, neighbours and family members to come in and spend two to three play sessions with your pet while you’re out of the house for a long period of time. You may also consider sending your pet to daycare where they are not left alone.

Pawrents need to remember that to our devoted pets, we are their entire world. Training them to get used to being alone is all about positive reinforcement and encouragement of the right behaviours, and not punishment. With COVID19 regulations lifted and pawrents returning to the office, we know it’s painful on your end as well. The best way to make up for lost time with your furbabies is by spending quality time with them when reunited. Bring them to the park, pet cafés, and dedicate time to training and playing with them every day to show your love!


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