As governments slowly loosen novel coronavirus-related lockdown procedures, many pet owners are preparing to work outside the home again.
To that end, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is encouraging veterinarians to share key tips with clients to ensure the transition is as stress-free as possible for their pets.
“Dogs and cats are creatures of routine, and they’ve probably gotten very accustomed to having us around the house all day during the pandemic. For pets adopted over the past couple of months, this may be the only routine they’ve ever known,” says the association’s president, John Howe, DVM. “So as more of us transition back to work and regular schedules we need to prepare our pets for this new routine.”
Here are seven steps to share with clients to help ensure a smooth transition as they return to their pre-pandemic routines.
Slowly introduce workday routines
Schedule waking up, feeding, and walking as you might for your expected workday routine, then introduce a consistent departure schedule that builds on that routine.
Take anxiety out of your departure
Practice short outings on a daily basis and gradually extend the time you are gone. Try giving your pet a small treat as you walk out the door to condition them to find it rewarding when you leave. If signs of anxiety (e.g. destructive activity) occur, do not punish the pet. Instead, shorten the time away and slowly build up to longer periods. Stay calm when leaving or returning home.
Before leaving the house, engage in play and activity. Burning energy can help keep pets calm and relaxed. Additionally, while the risk of dogs and cats becoming infected with COVID-19 is minimal, limit contact with people living outside your household (i.e. dog walkers, pet daycare providers). Cats should be kept indoors if possible.
Keep pets engaged
Long-lasting treats, food puzzles, and automatic feeders can help keep dogs and cats occupied during the day.
Create a safe space
If you previously used a crate when you were out, but haven’t been crating your dog while working from home, now might be a good time to either explore not using a crate while you are away or reintroducing crating for short periods while still working from home.
Look for signs of stress
Take note of excessive barking or whining, agitation, destructive behavior, and inappropriate urination/defecation. If you are concerned, consider filming your pets when you leave, so you can better observe them and share the video with your veterinarian.
Talk to your veterinarian
Concerns about behavior, stress, and well-being may require a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist and/or medical intervention.