Helping Your Pet Adjust When You Return to Work

A golden retriever and its owner laying down looking at a computer

If like many people, you have been working from home during the last few months, your pets will have almost certainly grown accustomed to having their human family around much more often than they are used to. Alternatively, you may have recently adopted a pet to keep you company while you’ve spent long hours indoors and who is used to having you home all the time. Whatever your situation, when you start to return to work there’s a good chance that the change will have an impact on your pet. Many animals may develop separation anxiety or become stressed by the changes in their routine. The good news is that this is usually temporary and there are some things that you can do to help your pet to adjust when you return to work.

How do I know if my pet is stressed or suffering from separation anxiety?

Animals naturally try to mask any signs of illness, and in some cases, they may also show minimal signs of stress while you are still at home. Very often, these worsen when you are getting ready to leave or after you have actually left the house. This can make identifying these issues tricky at times. It may be beneficial to set a camera to record indoors after you’ve left so that you can check-in and see how your pet is coping.

Stress and separation anxiety tend to present with very similar symptoms. These include the following:

  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Yawning
  • Hiding
  • Shaking/tremors
  • Barking or howling
  • Excessive drooling
  • Clingy behavior/shadowing you when you are at home
  • Destructive behaviors like chewing or scratching
  • Toilet accidents in house-trained animals
  • Helping your pet adjust to your new routine

Helping your pet adjust to your new routine

Helping your pet adjust to you going back to work is no different than settling them into any other routine. Consistency and structure are absolutely crucial as it is these that will help your pet to feel safe and secure when you aren’t at home with them. This will make it easier and quicker for them to adjust and for you to have your worries about leaving them alone alleviated.

Begin as soon as possible

It is never too early to prepare your pet for a new routine. If you know that you will be returning to work imminently, start the groundwork for your upcoming routine now so that you can slowly and gently ease them into it, rather than shocking them with sudden change.

Start the day right

Your pet will pick up on your emotional climate. If you are rushing around stressed before leaving the house, they too will feel anxious and this could make their separation anxiety worse. Wake up a little earlier than you need so that you have plenty of time to do create a consistent morning routine with your pet – be it breakfast, an early walk, or just a quick cuddle before you go to work.

Remember to let your pet out for a potty break before you leave

Even the best house-trained pet can get used to having an owner home who can let them out for potty breaks at random times. Toilet accidents are unpleasant for everyone involved, but you can make them much less likely by setting a firm and consistent potty break schedule for your pet.

Give your pet plenty of exercise

Exercise isn’t just about physical activity. Just like us, regular exercise can also benefit our pet’s mental health, giving them much needed mental stimulation that can prevent them from becoming bored and developing less desirable behaviors such as chewing or scratching. Be sure to leave your pet with some challenging activity toys when you are out too – such as a stuffed Kong or other food puzzles.

Make them comfortable

Your pet can’t be expected to relax unless they have a safe and inviting space in which to do so. Many owners choose to crate their pets or place them in playpens during the day, which helps to keep them contained in one area while also giving them their own personal space. Decide where your pet is going to spend their time while you are at work and use their favorite blankets and toys to make it as welcoming and comfortable as possible.

Gradual retreat

Whatever you do to help your pet to adjust at home, it is still going to take some time for them to get used to being alone. You can help smooth this transition by practicing leaving them alone. Use a technique we like to refer to as the ‘gradual retreat’ – starting with leaving them just a minute or two at a time and then slowly increasing the length of the period you are apart. Don’t make a big deal of leaving or returning but reward positive behavior once they have settled down and are calm (since they are likely to be extremely enthusiastic to greet you!).

If you would like more advice on how you can help your pet to adjust when you return to work, don’t hesitate to speak to our experienced veterinary team.