Veterinarians suggest new routines to curb animal separation anxiety as people return to work

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – If you’re a pet parent, chances are, your animals are soaking up the extra time at home with you during the pandemic.

“We see on social media, the cats are nay and the dogs are yay, but ultimately, I think all the pets are happy to have the extra attention, the extra love,” said Dr. Sonja Sims, an associate veterinarian at Valley Vetco.

However, the coming weeks when people return to the office and pets are home alone again could have a big impact on your furry family members. Local veterinarians say that separation can be really stressful.

“Their anxiety escalates one step at a time as they watch their person get ready to leave and then they hear the car disappear into the distance,” said Dr. Jeff Nichol, a specialist in veterinary behavior medicine.

They suggest using this extra time at home to work on any anxiety or destructive behaviors your pet may have before you return to work. “Right now, maybe we’re not noticing them as much but this is the time to actually work on those problems,” said Sims.

Nichol says one way to prepare your animals ahead of time is to delve into their primal instincts like scavenging for food. One way you can do that is transition their food out of the bowl and into food puzzle toys that can distract them as you head out the door.

“It’s got this funky shape for a reason,” said Nichol. “It makes it challenging for the dog to hold it still and to manipulate it and get their face in there to get food out, much as they would if they were scavenging.”

He also suggests using electromagnetic therapy devices like Calmer Canine for severe separation anxiety and home surveillance to see their behaviors when you leave. Sims suggests changing up your routine when you leave and going out the door without fanfare, so your pets don’t realize you’re leaving.

“If you can change up your behavior before leaving, that can help reduce the stress of your pet because they don’t know that you’re actually going to be gone,” said Sims. “One of the best things is not making a big deal when you leave as well as when you’re coming home.”

Another outlet for animal anxiety is exercise. Sims says if your pet is getting extra walks right now, make the time to get a good walk in before work.

Dr. Nichol is doing free webinars through Zoom next week to talk about separation anxiety and help people get information on the transition back to work. You can sign up online.

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