Preparing your pet for life after lockdown

Preparing your pet for life after lockdown

A year after the lockdown began in the UK, many of us are looking forward to spending more time outside our homes. And as we learn to adjust to life as lockdown restrictions begin to lift, our pets are in for some major lifestyle changes, too.

Will my pet suffer separation anxiety?

If your pet has spent time at home alone previously with no problems, then it’s unlikely that a return to normal life will cause too many issues.

However, some of our pets will have become accustomed to having us around for long periods and will need time and support to adjust to a new routine.

Equally, if you are one of the many people that got a new pet during the lockdown, your animal may need some extra special consideration to ensure they can cope with the transition.

If, however, you are concerned about your pet’s wellbeing, you should consider contacting your local vet who will be able to provide professional advice. Any costs incurred can be covered by our pet insurance policies, found on specific pages on this website.

Know the warning signs

With pets also susceptible to anxiety and depression, it’s important to prepare them for their new routines and to get them used to spend a lot more time on their own.

Separation anxiety in pets can sometimes be hard to spot and can also be distressing for both the pet and its owner.

But knowing the signs may help you to identify a problem early on. Let’s look at some of our most popular pets and some tips that will help you and them as we move out of lockdown.

Caring for my cat

Separation anxiety is more common in dogs than cats, who are naturally more solitary and independent. But they can certainly be affected. Signs worth looking out for include:

  • Your cat becoming more withdrawn or hiding more than usual
  • Becoming less tolerant of people
  • Hesitating or becoming reluctant of using the litter tray
  • Eating or drinking less
  • Increased or excessive vocalisation

Although outdoor cats are used to high levels of independence, indoor cats may need to build up more slowly to spend time alone. This is particularly important for social cats, or stress-prone cats that struggle with changes in routine.

As well as starting with manageable steps, gradually adjust your routine around feeding and playtimes, to what they will be when you return to work. Other tips to consider, include:

  • Provide your cat with elevated resting places which can give them with a safe place to hide and help relieve stress
  • Try not to overhandle or over comfort your cat. Being picked up or followed around can sometimes add to their stress
  • For indoor cats, help prevent any boredom whilst you are at work by providing mental stimulation through toys, puzzle feeders and scratching posts

Caring for my dog

Through lockdown, our four-legged friends have enjoyed having their owners at home with them on an almost 24/7 basis. The chances are that over the past year, you have taken your dog for a walk whenever you’ve had a free moment in between working and homeschooling.

Leaving loved dogs alone for several hours throughout the day can be an issue many are faced with and it can cause some notable and negative behaviour traits, including:

  • Whining and prolonged barking
  • Begging for attention
  • Destroying objects around the house
  • A change in appetite or soiling indoors
  • As well as more subtle signs like trembling and excessive grooming

Big changes can be hard for dogs to process, so it is a good idea to start with baby steps.

Instead of suddenly leaving your dog alone for a full day, start by closing the door and leaving them for a few minutes. Gradually increase this to hours, ideally over several weeks, until your dog is ready to spend the day alone and shows no signs of distress.

Remember, if your dog cries and you come running, they will learn that whimpering will give them what they want. Listen to the sounds they are making, are they in distress or do they sound in pain? If the answer is yes, check on them. If not, wait a little while longer to help them to settle before returning to them.

Other tips that may help you and your dog adjust to a new routine include:

  • Start to try and change the times you walk your dog to the times they will be walked in your post lockdown routine
  • If your dog is not used to being around other dogs, it would be a good time to get them socialised
  • Maybe you will need to consider getting a dog walker booked in or enrol your dog into daycare
  • If so, start arranging this now so they can get to know your dog. You could always join some walks for a while to settle your dog in and so make the transition easier
  • If you give your dog lots of fuss during the day, consider giving them less attention during working hours, to match the times you usually won’t be at home. Give them fuss in the evening when you are likely to be back

Make plans for puppies

Many people will have brought a new puppy into the family over lockdown and it’s easy to see how the joy and happiness they can bring is seen as the perfect antidote to the challenges we’ve faced.

However, for most adult dogs, the last year of having their humans at home full-time has been a happy anomaly, but when it comes to puppies, it’s all they’ve ever known.

Through a process known as socialisation, owners need to help their puppies cope with the world around them and ensure they grow up into happy and well-adjusted adults

  • Carefully and positively, puppies need to be exposed to all the different types of people, dogs and other animals they’re likely to encounter
  • The key socialisation period in puppies occurs between three and 14 weeks
  • Without this, there is the risk the puppy can become more fearful and anxious when they face new experiences and situations later in life

The need to maintain social distancing has meant effective socialisation has proved to be more difficult. However, there is support available:

  • Leading animal welfare charity Battersea has launched a new range of one-off virtual classes for dogs aged five to 18 months, tackling key training areas including separation anxiety and meeting new people.
  • You can check availability, book a class or simply register your interest for future classes by visiting the Battersea website.
  • You may also want to explore the option of day-care where your puppy can get used to spending time away from you with new furry friends and other people
  • If you do go down this route, do some research and ensure that whichever day-care establishment you choose is registered with their local authority and holds an Animal Boarding Licence

What about exotic and small pets?

For smaller pets, like rodents and lizards, you won’t need to worry as much about separation anxiety. With their differing sleep patterns, hamsters and guinea pigs, for example, will have spent most of the day sleeping and won’t notice a change in routine.

However, some exotic birds who can develop strong social bonds, will miss spending extended time with their owners.

It’s therefore important to keep them stimulated with toys and treats and to continue to schedule time out of their cages, so they can get some flight time and benefit from the exercise.

For all pets, try to resume your usual routine before you go back to work. Your pet will feel more secure, knowing what time dinner is served!

Welcoming in a new routine

Preparation is the best way to prevent your pet from struggling with big changes to your routine post-lockdown.

It’s all about making gradual changes so that your pet can get used to a new routine and be given the confidence to cope when you’re not around.

It can also prove to be beneficial in the long run. Be that getting back to the normalities of a post coronavirus world or even the separation from our pets that can occur when we finally get the opportunity to go away on holiday! It can all help make your pet more behaviourally flexible and able to adapt.

No matter what type of pet you have, insuring them could save you money in the long run and help you avoid the shock of any future vet bills or care that you may require. With a range of flexible cover and optional extras, British Pet Insurance Services can help you find the level of cover to suit your needs. We cover dogs, cats, horses and exotic animals as well as pet businesses.