Separation anxiety in pets: As parents return to work; home-alone pets suffer separation anxiety

Sitara Jaan, a six-month-old Lhasa Apso was adopted by Shama and Shahid Shaikh in February, during the lockdown. Since both mom and dad were working from home at the time, the pup got to spend lots of quality time with them, and got used to having them around 24x7. But she was in for a rude shock when both of them had to head to office post the lockdown. Suddenly, Sitara found herself completely alone for over seven hours a day! She began barking, howling and scratching doors, and couldn’t sleep. The couple consulted a dog behaviourist, and realised the pooch had separation anxiety.
“The anxiety is especially prominent in pups who were adopted during the lockdown period, and were used to having their parents around. Now, they cannot grasp this concept of their parents not being home for hours,” explains pet therapist and behaviour analyst Dr Kavita Mulchandani, adding, “Separation anxiety can lead to behavioural changes, such as overeating to not eating, or even aggressive behaviour. It also makes the pet sad and anti-social.”

WHAT CAUSES SEPARATION ANXIETY IN PETS?
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Bengaluru-based pet whisperer, Namratha Nair, says, “The major contributing factor to pet anxiety is a feeling of loneliness and abandonment which, in the long run, can also scar them emotionally for a long time, especially dogs, who are so needy and used to the attention. The symptoms can also include drooling and urinating or defecating whenever the owner leaves home,” she says.
Onkar Sane, owner of a 10-year-old indie dog, says, “My baby Shona gets grumpy and sad whenever I leave home. They are needier than kids and they need constant love and affection. A little separation is fine, but hours can lead them to exhibit anxious behaviour. During such times, when I return, Shona doesn’t leave my side for hours, and even jumps into bed and sleeps next to me.”
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Dr Nair says, “Separation anxiety is extremely stressful. It’s a panic attack, and daily bombardment of the stress hormone can be really harmful. Making sure a dog gets enough exercise is another way to lessen anxiety, and limiting interaction with the pet before leaving the house and upon returning home can also help.”
She adds, “Cats, meanwhile, express anxiety in other ways, such as refusing to eat for a day or two, urinating outside of their litter box or acting aggressively towards other people. However, this only happens when their parents are away for two or more days. Cats love distance, but they love the feel of their parents being around.”

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HOW ARE PET PARENTS ALLEVIATING THIS ANXIETY?

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Kajal Saluja, a boutique owner, whose German-Shepard, Ronnie, went through separation anxiety after she and her husband joined work went the extra mile to make their furry baby adjust to the new normal. “Ronnie was showing all signs of anxiety, such as not eating, being anti-social and howling. After consultation with a doctor, I started taking Ronnie to my boutique with me and organised play dates at home with other pets whose parents were working,” says Kajal, who is also preparing Ronnie to stay alone for a few hours at a time, and helping him bond with their domestic help as well.

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Meanwhile, Pratik Jain, a marketing head and his wife, had to arrange a system where one parent would stay at home and work to help reduce the anxiety in their pet. “Once we started working from the office, Genie was all alone for seven hours, which resulted in her becoming anxious and anti-social. I opted for the WFH option from my company after that, to be with Genie at home.” Several workplaces in the West are now setting up creches for pets to alleviate this anxiety and HR professional Jeevika Bhandari feels Indian workplaces should follow suit. “By allowing pets at work, pet parents can reduce their stress levels while working and vice-versa. While start-ups in India are allowing pet creche at work, big companies must give this a thought,” says Jeevika.




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You should never physically punish your pet. It brings the animal pain and fear, and it gains you nothing. It’s a lose-lose situation. Please don’t do it.

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