The ultimate back-to-work guide: How to prepare your pets for the transition

The ultimate back-to-work guide: How to prepare your pets for the transition

You’ve heard it said – our animals have been pumped that so many families are spending extended time at home. For several weeks, we have enjoyed spending more time with our animals, and it will be sad for everyone when we return to our normal at-work schedule.

If you’re anything like many pet parents we’ve talked to, you might be experiencing some nerves or anxiety about leaving your animal at home for extended periods of time. This is normal, and the best way to calm these nerves is to start preparing early.

Our office veterinarian, Dr. Mary Manspeaker, and our staff animal trainer, Marianne Spengler, agree that our animals are adaptable! Unless you fostered a new animal or adopted a puppy or kitten, your animal previously spent days at home while you were working. They will adapt back to their old routine. That’s not to say that we can’t help prepare them for a smooth and comfortable transition.

Marianne and Dr. Manspeaker have several recommendations for all animals, as well as a few important signs to look out for. Dr. Manspeaker also shared several special circumstances and additional factors to consider if your animal falls into one of them. Let’s dive in!

Tips to help ease your animal’s transition:

Just like humans, animals appreciate regularity! When you’re preparing to make a major schedule shift, start slowly easing your animal back into a routine. Our goal is to help you prevent negative animal behaviors – like going to the bathroom in the house or destroying household items – because they can damage our relationships with companion animals and can ultimately lead to animal surrender. Implement the following changes a few weeks or days before you go back to work.

  • Marianne recommends taking short trips away from the home to remind your animal that when you leave, you’re going to come back. Practice leaving in the morning at the same time you would leave for your commute. Start by leaving for fifteen minutes, then thirty and then an hour (if you’re able).
  • Manspeaker recommends sticking to a standard feeding schedule. If your animal eats at 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. when you’re working, keep that same schedule when you’re working from home. If you’ve strayed from the schedule, that’s ok! Transition back to your normal feeding timeline so your animal’s meals are one less adjustment to make when you return to work.
  • If you free feed your animal, consider switching to scheduled feeding. Dr. Manspeaker recommends this practice, as monitoring food intake is important when gauging your animal’s well-being.
  • For dogs, Dr. Manspeaker and Marianne recommend incentivizing crate time, especially if your dog is crated while you’re away. Crate-trained animals should view their crate as a comfortable, safe space. They’ve likely spent less time there while you’re home, so you might need to remind them of their nest. If they enter their crate voluntarily, reward them with a treat. This reminds them that seeking shelter in their crate is a positive behavior.
  • Marianne knows that many animals, particularly dogs, have enjoyed mid-afternoon walks or extended playtime with their families. If you’re not able to provide these opportunities within your work schedule, start to slowly limit these. Practice morning and evening walks and extended post-work playtime to help your dog get back on schedule.
  • Manspeaker recommends getting your dog back on a bathroom schedule. Start letting your animal out in the morning and evening as you would when you’re at work. This will help prevent accidents from dogs who are already house trained. If your animal has a smaller bladder or incontinence issues, you can adjust this schedule to accommodate their needs, use animal diapers or pursue potty-pad options.
  • Some animals are prone to mischief, and sometimes an adjusted schedule will cause animals to act out. To prevent this, do a major sweep of your house before you head back to work. Pick up any toys, shoes, toilet paper or other items that your animal is known to destroy. Close bedroom doors and restrict access like you would if you were away.
  • Spend extra time letting off steam! If your animal has a lot of energy, Dr. Manspeaker and Marianne recommend spending more time playing after hours. Throwing the ball, going on walks or exercising with your animal can help them sleep soundly at night and encourages them to rest during the day so they can play when you come home.
  • When you finally head back to the office, leave your animal with a special treat as a goodbye present. Marianne recommends a Kong stuffed with animal-safe treats, and Dr. Manspeaker says a catnip toy is a great option for cats. This is a feel-good reminder that you love your animal and will be back with them soon!
  • Consider enrolling in doggy daycare. Both Marianne and Dr. Manspeaker agree that doggy daycare programs are a great way to spend excess energy and socialize our animals. Not all dogs are great candidates, but if your animal is friendly and enjoys other animals, this might be a great option to consider!

Once you’re back to work, monitor your animal closely.

Here’s the soothing truth – most of our animals will adjust perfectly to our new schedule, especially if we prepare them for the transition. In rare cases, there are some things you might need to discuss with your vet. Here’s what Dr. Manspeaker recommends you look out for:

  • Is your animal going to the bathroom regularly? If your animal is normally house trained and starts using the bathroom in the home regularly, this is something to discuss with your veterinarian.
  • Is your animal consuming food normally? This is especially important to monitor for cats, who are often better at hiding their emotions than dogs. It may be hard to tell if you free-feed your animal, so consider switching to scheduled feedings for the time being, if possible. If your animal chooses not to eat, or is eating less than usual, discuss these changes with your vet.
  • Is your animal especially lethargic? You can expect some changes in your animal’s energy level, but decreased energy for a prolonged period of time is something to discuss with your veterinarian. 

Special circumstances!

If your family falls into one of the following circumstances, then there may be a few more things to consider as you’re preparing to head back to work.

Leaving a puppy or kitten at home for the first time?

Animals that are familiar with work schedules will more easily transition back into old habits. But if you’re like many families who adopted a puppy or kitten during quarantine, your animal will experience the transition differently. It is important to remember that your animal is still in a training stage – some puppies and kittens will be further along in this process than others. Know that accidents will happen, and work to emphasize positive behaviors whenever possible. If you are not already crate training your animal, consider starting the process now. This will help limit relationship-damaging behaviors like property destruction and accidents in the house. Be patient with your young friend! They are learning how to cope with the world and need your help to adapt.

Is your animal exhibiting signs of loneliness or separation anxiety?

If your animal has separation anxiety, they may experience more intense feelings when you return to work. How your animal expresses this anxiety can vary – from excess barking to lethargy, destroying household items and decreased appetite – but it’s important to note if your animal is acting out of sorts. One strategy for these animals is to consider adopting another companion animal. Dr. Manspeaker says especially social animals that are intensely bonded to their humans can benefit from having an animal companion to bond with.

Does your dog have difficulty holding its bladder or bowels?

Older animals and smaller animals may have difficulty holding their bladder and bowels while you’re away. If you’re able to arrange for someone to let them out during the day, that can help prevent unwanted accidents in the home. Know that some accidents might still happen, though, and pursue alternate measures if your animal has regular accidents after a few weeks of adjustment. Always watch for stool consistency, frequency of urination and other factors and alert your vet if your animal’s bathroom habits are abnormal or irregular.

Are you fostering an animal?

If you’re currently fostering an animal, we thank you for your support! Our foster families are a lifeline for our animals awaiting placement in their forever homes. Sometimes, adjusting to new circumstances can be especially challenging for our foster animals, whose life circumstances prior to rescue might complicate their behavior. As you transition back to work, we encourage you to continue fostering, if at all possible. Spending time in a home is a great benefit to our animals and is one of the best ways to promote adoption. Use the recommendations above to create as smooth of a transition as possible, and consult the Humane Society if you have any questions.

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