Written by: Michael San Filippo for American Veterinary Medicine
As states and municipalities begin the process of opening up following months of lockdowns and closures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is encouraging pet owners to take steps to ensure the transition is smooth and stress-free for our pets.
"Dogs and cats are creatures of routine, and they've probably gotten very accustomed to having us around the house all day during the pandemic; for pets adopted over the past couple of months, this may be the only routine they've ever known," said Dr. John Howe, president of the AVMA. "So as more of us transition back to work and regular schedules we need to prepare our pets for this new routine."
The AVMA recommends the following seven steps to get pets ready for your return to work:
Slowly introduce workday routines—Schedule waking up, feeding and walking as you might for your expected workday routine, then introduce a consistent departure schedule that builds on that routine.
Take anxiety out of your departure—Practice short departures on a daily basis and gradually extend the time you are gone. Give a small treat just as you walk out the door to condition the pet to find it rewarding when you leave. If signs of anxiety—such as destructive activity—occur, do not punish the pet. Instead, shorten the time away and slowly build up to longer periods. Stay calm when leaving or returning home.
Exercise—Before leaving, engage in play and activity. Burning energy can help keep pets calm and relaxed. While the risk of pets becoming infected is believed to be low, as a precaution, if you intend to have a dog walker or send your pet to daycare while at work, treat your pet as you would a human family member to protect them from possible infection with COVID-19. This means limiting contact between your pets and people outside your household as much as possible. Follow protocols put into place by the daycare and do not use these options if you or your pets are sick. Keep cats indoors if possible. Do not put face coverings on pets and do not wipe or bathe your pet with chemical disinfectants, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide or any other products not approved for animal use.
Keep them engaged—Long-lasting treats, food puzzles, and automatic feeders can help keep pets occupied during the day while you're out.
Create a safe space—If you have typically used a crate when you were gone but haven't been crating your dog while at home, now is a good time to either explore not using a crate while you are away (gradually increasing the length of time you are away) or reintroduce crating while still working from home by making it rewarding for the dog to go into the crate for short periods of time.
Look for signs of stress—Excessive barking or whining, agitation, destructive behavior, and inappropriate urination/defecation can all be signs of stress. If you are concerned, consider filming your pets when you leave so you can better observe them and share the video with your veterinarian.
Talk to your veterinarian—Concerns about behavior, stress, and wellbeing may require a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist and/or medical intervention.