Help your pet adjust when you go back to work after lockdown
As some return to work, RSPCA is issuing advice to dog owners to help their pets adjust to the change…
For many of us, life has changed significantly during the Covid-19 lockdown – and it’s also changed for our dogs. When the restrictions are lifted, we will have to adjust again to returning to our normal routines – and our pets will too.
Help your dog adjust when you go back to work after lockdown
Sarah Tapsell, one of RSPCA’s regional clinical animal behaviourists, said:
You may have changed your routine with your dog if you have been home more. Times for feeding, playing, walking and attention may all be slightly different. Your dog may be getting more or less of these things than before depending on the changes in your schedule.
Changes in routine are something a dog can adapt to, but it’s important to think ahead and begin to make gradual changes before you change your routine again when you go back to work. Otherwise, when things change again suddenly, it may come as a shock to your dog, even if they handled it well before Covid-19. Even the most resilient of dogs can get worried sometimes.
Remember that your dog is a social animal, it’s normal for them to want and need to spend time with you. This means that it is important that you aren’t leaving your dog for too long during the day, or longer than they can cope with. Any dog left too long will struggle, with or without good advice to help them to cope.
Top tips for preparing your dog
- Gradually change the timings of your dog’s routine to the way they will eventually be. If the time you feed or walk your dog has changed due to lockdown then slowly start to change it back to how it was before. Doing this can prevent your dog from experiencing frustration and anxiety when their daily schedule suddenly doesn’t match what they’ve come to expect.
- Begin to gradually return your dog’s routine to normal before it has to change. Consider the amount of walks, location and times that are part of your dog’s normal routine. Gradually adjust your walks to match this. Our dogs may not be left alone at all during lockdown or for brief intervals only, and they’re probably getting much more attention and interaction. But if this is likely to change when you go back to work then you need to prepare them for that. Begin to gradually decrease the amount of attention you give your dog, and increase the time they spend on their own. This may include not playing with your dog every time they ask or not stroking them everytime they nudge you. Don’t completely ignore your dog as this may confuse them, but do give them something better to do like a comfy bed to lay on or a tasty chew to settle with.
- Give them a routine as close as possible to the one they’ll experience when restrictions are lifted. Help your dog spend more time alone by encouraging them to rest in their own bed or keeping them in a separate room while you do something else.
- Give your dog clear signals about when they can be involved in interactions and when they need to occupy themselves. Chew toys or interactive toys your dog can use without you can help you to do this.
- Try to keep interaction time for when you will be available once your routine is back to normal, for example in the evenings after dinner.
- You may also want to think about leaving the house without the dog to help your dog to gradually get used to this part of their routine again. If you need to build up this time for a longer duration or for more frequent absences, think about going to sit in the car to read a book, so that you can leave the house and stay within government guidelines. However, if your dog shows any distress when left alone then pause your plans and seek the support of a qualified behaviourist.
- If you are returning to using a dog walker, friend or family member to care for your dog while you are busy they might be very excited or even a little apprehensive having spent time with only you. It can be useful for you to remain home on the first walk or two, just in case your dog needs any extra support from you.
RSPCA’s dog welfare expert, Dr Samantha Gaines, added:
Always introduce changes gradually and in a positive way, using only positive, reward-based training. And if you have any concerns about how your dog will cope, it is always best to seek advice from a qualified behaviourist who can support you throughout the changes.
Find out more about keeping your dogs happy and healthy during lockdown.
Help your cat adjust when you go back to work after lockdown
Sarah Tapsell, one of RSPCA’s regional clinical animal behaviourists, said:
All cats are individuals and some may enjoy human companionship and time with people more than others. This means there will likely be some cats who are enjoying the increased time spent with their owners during lockdown whereas other cats may be happy to have more quiet time when you return to work.
Whichever kind of cat you have, cats can be sensitive to change, and so a change in routine can cause stress to your cat. It is important to make any changes gradually, whilst still ensuring all their needs are met.
Before going back to work it’s a good idea to gradually reduce the amount of interaction you have with your cat to help them prepare for your return to work. For some cats, a sudden reduction in interaction could lead to stress and frustration as the cat’s expectations are not being met, although others may be happier to have less interaction.
It’s important to try and identify how your cat is feeling especially if they are doing something that is unusual for them compared to how they are normally. A cat who seeks more interaction from you and maybe plays more roughly with you may be frustrated or bored and struggling with the reduction in attention. A quiet and withdrawn, or more irritable cat may be stressed and in need of their own space. It can be useful to recognise this so you can give them their own time and a safe place to rest. If you know your cat well, you will likely know where their favourite places are.
Once you do go back to work, ensuring you still spend quality time with your pet when you return, and doing things which they enjoy such as playing or grooming is also important in helping them get used to any changes.
Top tips for preparing your cat
- Any changes in routine should be introduced gradually
- Ensure your cat has hiding places and elevated resting places which help relieve stress for cats by offering them a safe place to hide
- Ensure you aren’t over handling your cat to try and comfort them. Being picked up or followed around can add to their stress if this is not their choice
- Gradually adjust your routine to what it will be when you return to work i.e. feeding times and frequency, play times
- Help prevent boredom whilst you are at work by providing puzzle feeders, toys and scratching posts – this is especially important for indoor cats
- Your life may become a lot busier after lockdown but it’s important to ensure you still spend quality time with your cat every day
Alice Potter, RSPCA’s cat welfare expert, said:
Compared to dogs, who are a highly social species, cats naturally live in small family groups and can often cope with a more solitary life. This means they can sometimes seem aloof to us and at times, just want to do their own thing without us.
But even if your cat isn’t a fuss loving, attention seeking lap cat they can still get stressed from your return to work so take time to make the transition as smooth and stress free as possible.
After spending so much time together during lockdown you’ll probably be excited to see your cat after a long day at work.
Once you get home though, it’s best to keep things calm and give them time to greet you on their terms. Look out for the cues that your cat gives to show they want to spend time with you, or if they’d rather have some alone time. For example, approaching you with their tail held up with the end pointed horizontally is a friendly greeting and a cat that is hiding needs to be given space.