Summertime post-holiday blues may equal pet separation anxiety
With a rush of New Zealanders set to return to the office after the summer holidays, pet parents are facing up to a new reality that may include a tougher time for the furrier members of the family.
Accustomed to having their human around for more of the day, more of the time, pets across the country will need to adapt to longer, lonelier days. And for some parents and pets alike, it’s a source of separation anxiety.
When you consider 2 in 3 Kiwi households has a pet this could mean an onslaught of angst.
Michelle Le Long, chief operating officer at pet insurance provider PD Insurance, points out that while lockdowns and sudden work-from-home circumstances may have proved a challenge for people they were a boon for pets.
“Dogs, especially, love having their humans around as much as possible. It means more attention, more companionship and better days. Some cats are just as affectionate, too, though they do tend to be more independent,” she notes.
PD Insurance recently asked pet owners if they or their pets suffered separation anxiety in the wake of eased lockdown restrictions. 12% of the 1,000 survey participants said their pets had while an additional 11% said both they and their pet suffered from it. “The issue is therefore a very real one for a significant proportion of pet owners,” Le Long points out.
Symptoms of separation anxiety in pets can include soiling the house even though toilet trained, persistent barking and howling or meowing when left alone, chewing or scratching at things, digging holes and general out-of-character destruction, as well as escaping.
“Not only do these behaviours indicate anxiety and unhappiness for your pet, they can also be unpleasant for neighbours. And, of course, an escaped dog or cat is at risk from traffic. Some can even present a risk to other people and animals,” Le Long says.
Because anxious behaviour in a pet poses an increased risk of injury to themselves and those around them, it’s important to consider third party liability cover (which many pet insurance policies include). Insuring a pet is about far more than access to the right medical care in its time of need; it’s about social responsibility. If an escaped dog or cat causes two vehicles to collide for example, there are potentially both financial and physical ramifications.
The causes of pet anxiety are often linked to changes to its schedule or home. With people going back into the office after an extended period at home – either during lockdown, towards the end of a lengthy work-from-home period, or indeed after the summer holidays – separation anxiety can be triggered in your fur baby.
“Whether you see the symptoms or not yet, it’s important for your pet’s welfare to give some thought to helping them adjust to a new reality while you return to work,” says Le Long.
Simple tactics include coming and going quietly, not making a fuss of arrivals and departures. Then, these moments are less of a ‘shock to the system’. Pet parents might also want to slowly increase the amount of time they spend away from home, in the lead up to a return to the office.
Communicate with your pet, too, establishing a word or action used when you leave. This tells your furry mate that you will return. And with animals tending to enjoy the scent of their human, it’s a good idea to leave them with recently worn clothes that smell like you.
Technology can also help alleviate separation anxiety, both for you and your pooch and/or kitty. Not only are there ‘petcams’ which let you check in and even drop a few treats remotely, there are also some that incorporate toys that enable you to spend remote quality time with your pet.
“Pet parents tend to understand the physical needs of their companion animal well, but may not realise its mental health is just as important,” says Le Long.
“With many of us making changes which leave our pets alone for longer than they’ve become accustomed to, there can be cause for concern. Especially at this time of year. By knowing what to expect and taking some positive action, you can make the process easier for your pets – and for yourself, too,” she concludes.
Leandri Smith – The Mail Room
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