There’s a new pandemic on the horizon – an anxiety one for pets, and it’s only going to get worse unless pet parents act now, according to a leading pet behaviourist and Hill’s Pet Nutrition.
This last year has seen a surge in people making their first pet addition to the family, with a reported 3.2 million households in the UK acquiring a pet since the start of the pandemic.
Google searches for ‘buy a puppy’ increased by 166% during lockdown, and a third of those who went on to take on a pet had not been considering ownership before lockdown, according to Battersea Cats & Dogs Home.
Lockdown has meant for so many of us a dramatic reduction in the interactions shared with other people. For our pets on the other hand, they have spent every moment with us by their side making this period a socialising high. So, as we anticipate the lifting of all major legal restrictions on 19 July, how will the nation’s pets cope with the long days alone at home, many for the very first time.
Sarah Whitehead, pet behaviour specialist said: “With so many cats and dogs finding their first home and many parents taking on the responsibility of their first pet during lockdown – there is naturally going to be some difficulty being separated. Even those pets that are a bit older have been used to their adoring family around 24/7, so it’ll be a huge shock to the system when they are catapulted back into a quiet and lonely house again. Separation anxiety can be very upsetting for both pet and owner, and if not taken care of, can have a damaging impact on your pet’s behaviour and mental stability. It is crucial to know how to guide your pet through this potentially difficult time and nurture their sense of security to continue the loving relationship you both share”.
Hill’s Pet Nutrition has teamed up with Sarah Whitehead to create five practical and easy to follow tips to make sure pets have an easy transition:
- Independence Training: Don’t allow your pet to constantly follow you from room-to-room. While it might be flattering to have a little shadow, it shows that he’s already over-attached to you and may develop a separation problem. Use a baby gate to create a little distance between you even when you are in the house – and close the door when you are in the bathroom.
- Start off slow: Get your pet used to being left for a few minutes every day. It’s no good just walking out to work after months of being together and expecting them to be OK. They won’t be! Little and often separations work best, so get that practise in ahead of time.
- Entertain and Employ: For dogs – create a chew toy ‘addiction’, so that your dog will chew things that aren’t your furniture when you are out! Many people report that their dog won’t chew anything appropriate at all when they aren’t there – which indicates that the dog is anxious.
- Prep before you go: Exercise / play with your pet before you leave him or her – and make sure he or she has been to the loo. A tired pet is a calm and sleepy one. Also make sure your pet has a bed of its own. If you have a puppy or kitten, then when he/she falls asleep elsewhere, pick them up and put in their bed, so that they find themself in it when they wake up. Position the bed where you will want the pet to rest while you are out. Make sure the bed is comfy, in a quiet place and is associated with positive things – it’s never a punishment area.
- Gradual build up: Be realistic about the amount of time you leave your pet. Dogs in particular are social creatures and find it hard to cope on their own. A puppy shouldn’t be left longer than two hours at a stretch. Adult dogs may cope with up to four hours, but they need to learn how to occupy themselves first, so follow the steps above and build up to this gradually.
Michael Unsworth, Hill’s Vet Affairs Manager, UK & Republic of Ireland added: “Separation anxiety in pets is similar to that of humans having a panic attack; the overwhelming feelings of stress can be very serious to their overall health and wellbeing, whilst also damaging to your home if they become destructive. It’s crucial to know how best to avoid separation anxiety within our pets and nurture their sense of security and comfort in what can be an extremely stressful time. It’s not what happens when you are out, but what you do when you are at home that will make all the difference, and by following these simple steps it can help support them to combat these stresses and allow you and your pet to enjoy coming home to one another at the end of our new working days.”