Who would have thought that the Government would be concerned about your pet’s post-COVID experience?

Well yesterday, Mark Furner, Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, was concerned enough to issue some tips to pet owners to ensure their furry friends are not distressed when they return to working away from home.

Mr Furner said that as the lockdown eases, some pets may experience separation anxiety if nobody is around during the day.

“One thing that many people have actually enjoyed during these difficult months has been spending more time at home with their pets,” Mr Furner said.

“For some people, it’s been an opportunity to have a pet for the very first time.

“Workplaces and economies around the world have been doing it tough because of COVID-19, and Queensland has been no different.

“As we start to deliver Queensland’s plan to unite and recover, many workplaces are returning to normal. After months of constant company in the house, it can be confusing for animals if their owner’s routine quickly changes.

Mr Furner said that dogs in particular crave human company so owners who will be spending more time back in the office will need to condition their pet into feeling positive about time alone.

“The simplest approach is to give your dog time out for brief periods. Leave them alone for a few minutes, five minutes, ten, then 20, then 30 and so on, so they’re not left feeling isolated for long periods.

“Other options include hiring somebody to take your dog out for regular exercise during the day, invest in doggy day care, or arrange play dates with your friend’s dogs.”

Anxious pets can make for worried owners, especially if your pet escapes or becomes destructive, or if it disturbs neighbours by barking or whining. Other signs of distress can include loss of appetite, over-grooming, and pacing.

And while we tend to focus on dogs when it comes to separation anxiety, recent research has shown that cats emotionally bond with their owners and can also suffer separation anxiety, albeit a bit less obviously. Pet birds too can experience separation anxiety which may result in feather picking and other distressing behaviours.

Tips to help pets with life after COVID-19:

  • Pets are creatures of habit, so establish a routine that covers rest, play, exercise and alone time during the day while you are at work to return them to their normal habits.
  • Encourage pets to play with their toys and rotate the toys regularly to keep them engaged.
  • Make feeding fun with puzzle feeders, chew bones and scatter feeds to increase the time and mental energy spent foraging and eating.

In its tips page, the RSPCA in Queensland also recommends:

  • Microchipping in case your pet roams.
  • Training classes.
  • Ensuring your pet has a safe place in your home, such as a favourite place to sleep.

This ABC Life’s report, Avoiding separation anxiety in your dog or cat when you return to work published in May sets out what signs to look for and offers a range of helpful ideas to consider.

Feature image by Jan Bowman