Top tips to help your pet adjust to an empty home

Now that people are going back to the office more frequently, the house will start to seem rather quiet for our pets, which can be quite upsetting for them!

Our furry friends would have gotten so used to having people around over the summer, that the decline in people being present at home, can make a sudden change in our pet’s routine that is bound to cause at least some temporary stress. With schools also set to break up again in a few weeks for another half term, this will most likely trigger more confusion with our pet’s routine.

Dr. Sarah Machell, Medical Director for Vetster, a digital platform which connects licensed vets with pet owners virtually, shares some tips on how to try and avoid our pets getting distressed when adjusting to changes in their routine. With a little extra planning, time, and energy, you can shift to a new routine while still providing your pet with everything they need to be happy and well-adjusted.

1. Maintain your pet’s routine

Being organised and sticking to a routine will help your pet feel more comfortable once you’ve left the house. Even though going back to school might force a need to change from the summer routine, it’s important to ensure your pet’s needs are still all met. Allow plenty of time to address your pet’s food, water, exercise, and social interaction requirements prior to your departure. Start shifting to the new routine gradually a couple of weeks prior to the start of school. Try some practice runs of leaving them alone for shorter periods of time if that makes you more comfortable with leaving them, which will also help you understand how long your pet can be left alone. Before you leave the house, give plenty of time to say goodbye to your pet, but do not make a big deal of it. You want your pet to understand that you leaving the house is a regular, everyday occurrence and that it’s fine for them to be alone.

2. Bathroom habits

For dogs, provide regular opportunities for them to go to the bathroom both prior to your departure and immediately upon returning home. Confidence is one of the best tools in your pet’s toolbox for coping with any type of stress, and routines boost confidence. A dog is more likely to feel anxious when they’re uncertain when they’ll have a chance to relieve themselves. Healthy dogs are capable of adapting to being out only twice daily, but this is less than ideal. Do your best to create a routine where your dog has an opportunity to relieve themself at least three times daily. If your cat is wasting outside of their litter box or your dog is letting loose on the carpet, this could be a sign of a medical condition and warrants veterinary attention.

3. Don’t forget to walk your dog

In general, pets need exercise to keep fit, healthy and increase their mental stimulation. As our routines become more hectic now that summer has ended, it is important to still allow plenty of exercise time for your pets. Taking your dog out for a walk before you leave for work or the school run will tire it out, which means it will have less energy to be destructive while you’re away from home. If your pet is too relaxed, this leaves space for them to feel anxious. It is crucial to keep up your pet’s exercise routine – and it also gives you a chance to have a quick workout before you start your day.

4. Think about building a new feeding routine

Plan ahead so your pet’s feeding routine doesn’t get disrupted once everyone returns to work or school. Over the summer it was easy to feed your pets at certain times or give them a snack while you have one. However, now everyone is back to normal you should ensure you keep regular feeding habits. Feeding your dog in the morning and when you return home will create a healthy routine. Similarly, cats who are not relying on self-feeders will also need a new eating routine that works well for everyone. If you feel uncomfortable with your pet’s food routine while it’s alone, you can get a feeding toy or dispenser for your pet to use when feeling peckish.

5. Keep your pet busy with enriching activities

Keeping your pet mentally stimulated and busy throughout the day will keep them occupied when alone. Providing some enriching activities will prevent your pet from feeling bored. Games, puzzles and pet-friendly music or TV shows will all keep your pet distracted for a while.

6. Don’t teach your pet to be upset about being home alone

Our more social pets, especially dogs, are especially empathetic. They look to us for cues about how to behave in different situations. If you are calm, your dog will pick up on that and follow your lead.  If you are nervous or distressed, your dog is likely to assume he should feel that way too. We all love our canine companion’s instinct to engage in a heartfelt greeting ritual, but dogs don’t naturally make a big deal about departures. Respect your dog’s view on that, and don’t impose your human perspective on them. Even though it’s not always easy, treat leaving like it’s no big deal and you’re happy to do it, and your pet will find that reassuring. You want your pet to understand that you leaving the house is a regular, everyday occurrence and that it’s fine for them to be alone.

A note on pet separation anxiety –

Temporary anxious feelings should not be concerned with separation anxiety, which is a legitimate medical condition. It is not common in the canine population overall but is one of the most common behavioural disorders of dogs. It also occurs in cats, albeit rarely. Dogs with separation anxiety experience true panic and mortal fear when left alone and are unable to cope or adjust. They frequently break their teeth and nails and damage property in their efforts to escape. House soiling and excessive barking are common but less severe symptoms.

If you do find that your pets are getting distressed when adjusting to changes in their routine, it’s always best to get them checked out by a professional vet. Vetster is here to help with 24/7 on demand online veterinary appointments. Book a virtual appointment here.

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