Separation Anxiety: How COVID-19 May Affect Our Pets In The Future

Written By: Stacey Barge, RVT
Date Posted: April 19, 2020

One of the plus sides of being in quarantine currently is the extra time we have to spend with our pets. How could this be a bad thing? We love our pets and normally there doesn’t ever seem to be enough time for them. A lot of pets are used to being home alone all day. Now all of a sudden they are getting much more attention than they are used to. Eventually we will all be going back to work and they will need to become accustomed to being alone again.

With anxiety, destructive or disruptive behaviours can become an issue. With dogs you might see, tearing up of items, digging, chewing, pacing, barking, howling, or even urinating/defecating in the house. With cats you could see urinating/defecating outside the litter box, excessive grooming, hiding, vocalization, and even biting.

As with any issue you encounter with your pet, investigation into ruling out medical issues should be done first. Incontinence problems can also be caused by things like an infection, can be age related, related to kidney disease or problems with the genitalia itself. There are also a number of medications that can cause house soiling and the need for frequent urination.

If you have ruled out any other issues, there are some things that you can do to lessen the anxiety your pets will have once you are not with them full-time anymore:

  1. Plan some alone time for them. You can go for walks without them, or encourage them to stay in a separate room without you. Thinking ahead about how this pandemic will end will help not only you but your pet as well. Encourage your pet to have some independence.
  2. Have a daily routine. This will not only benefit them, but you as well. We all need some type of routine and some predictability in our lives, so do your pets.
  3. Counter-conditioning. Counter-conditioning changes an animal’s negative reaction to a situation to a positive one. For example: Every time you leave the house, you could give your dog a KONG stuffed with treats, this way not only does it give them a treat, it keeps their mind busy while you are gone, lessening the anxiety.
  4. Speak to your vet. Although not always necessary, in some cases there are medications that may help your pet cope with anxiety while you are working on the behaviour.
  5. Consult with a professional trainer. There are some great positive-reinforcement based trainers out there that can give personalized advice for your situation. Helping you to reward positive behaviour and establish a routine and rituals that work for your lifestyle.

Whatever you do, please do not punish or scold your pet. Anxious behaviours are not out of spite or disobedience, they are a response to stress. Punishment could end up making the behaviours much worse.

Our pets depend on us for everything, let’s make sure they have everything they need to come out of this on top.