Health awareness

7 tips to help your pets overcome stress as you return to work & school

Our pets need help adjusting to new routines, too

October 6, 2021

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“Many of us have been with our pets nearly all day, every day during the pandemic,” says Joseph Hahn, DVM, executive director, companion animal and equine professional services, Merck Animal Health.

“As we go back to the workplace or go to school and disappear for the day, the pets left behind can experience anxiety, fear, frustration and boredom.”

Joseph Hahn, DVM

With a little training and patience, you can help your furry family members ease into their new routine. To support pet owners and pet health, our companion animal health experts and staff veterinarians have some suggestions for how to smooth the transition back to the office or to school.

Signs of anxiety

As we begin to leave our pets at home, be aware of any signs that they may be experiencing anxiety so you can best address it.

For dogs, signs of anxiety include constant panting, irritability, increased barking, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, destruction of objects in the home and urinating or defecating in the house.

Cats can also show similar signs. “You may see an increased hunting behavior, isolation, excessive vocalization (crying, moaning, meowing) and excessive self-grooming,” says Dr. Hahn.

Below are 7 tips to keep in mind to help ease your pet’s anxiety and stress as you go back to work or school.


Practice leaving

Walk through everything you would normally do before leaving your home. Put on your shoes, have coffee, grab your keys and head for the door. Go out for a few minutes. Come back in and resume your day in the house.

Repeat this process several days in a row. Leave the house a little longer each time, building up to an hour, then two, then four.

“It’s important to repeat the routine for a few consecutive days and to be consistent,” says Dr. Hahn. “With patience, you’ll see good results.”


Give your pets something to see (and hear)

Make sure your pets have access to spaces where they can see the street, people or other animals. Or, if you typically have the TV or music playing, consider keeping them on while you’re away.


Stimulate your pet’s brain

When you leave, place toys around the house that stimulate your pet’s brain. Puzzle toys filled with food can be great options for dogs.

For cats, add a few scratching posts and comfy window perches. Place a bird feeder in clear view of your cat’s post. You can also place cardboard boxes in different rooms to allow your kitty to explore the space.


Keep your cool

“Avoid scolding or punishing your pet if you come home and find an unwanted surprise,” says Dr. Hahn. “Your pet doesn’t destroy things because he or she is bad. They’re probably scared or bored and may be anxious because their owner is away.”

Instead of disciplining your pet for bad behavior, take note of when your pet is well-behaved and calm, and reward that behavior with a treat, a cuddle or verbal praise.


Respect your pet’s routine

Think about your pet’s eating and playing routine when you’re at home. Try to keep that routine as much as possible when you’re away. This may require you to recruit a neighbor, a pet sitter or pet daycare to help.


Use tech to connect

While you are away from home, the right technology can help you feel more connected to your dog or cat and make it easier to spot and respond to changes in their behavior. Security cameras or smart home devices can help you keep an eye on your pet while you’re away at work or school and even allow you to talk to them.


Keep your pet healthy

Don’t forget your pet’s annual health visit. Your veterinarian can check for signs of pain or illness and keep your pet up to date on vaccinations and other preventive medications.

“Our pets bring so much to our lives – comfort, companionship, joy and even better health for their human companions,” says Dr. Hahn. “We’ll miss them when we return to work and school, but by following the steps above, we may be able to ease them into this new routine without anxiety or fear.”