If you’re like many people, you’ve spent at least some of the last year working from home with a pet. For some pets who were purchased or brought home during the pandemic, having an owner at home and available is all they’ve ever known.

After a challenging year of change, many companies are finally preparing to call their employees back to the office. Animals are creatures of habit, and to suddenly be alone for 8-9 hours a day can be traumatic and stressful for them. You’ll need to start preparing now to give them time to adjust, preparing them gradually rather than all at once.

Give your pet a chance to find a happy, healthy balance in the midst of change. Here are ways to help prepare your pet for your return to work.

Create a Routine
Begin the process of switching your pet to your new schedule now. Start feeding them at regular times, and scheduling walks both before and after your new work schedule. If you plan to enroll them in a doggy daycare or enlist the help of a dog walker, plan visits with these individuals and places to help them get adjusted. Once you’ve established your routine, stick to it and give it time.

Practice Leaving Your Pet
Rather than leave your pet for 8-9 hours on your first day back to the office, start small and gradually increase your time away. Begin leaving for 2-3 hours at a time to begin, then increase by an hour or two the following week, getting to 8-9 hours at a time by the time you return to your office. This way, your pup or cat will have time to adjust to your absence without the sudden shock.

Increase Exercise
Pent up energy can often fuel separation anxiety, and in the case of pets, more exercise is the way to go. Take your dog for longer walks or jogs in both the morning and evening. Head to the Bark Park for social play or to your favorite park to play fetch. Take out the wand or laser pointer for cats, and give them a good 15-20 minutes of playtime at a time. The more energy they burn, the better they’ll feel and the more likely they can begin to adjust to the changes in your lives.

Doggy Daycare & Dog Walkers
Some dogs may do better in a doggy daycare setting several days a week, and others might benefit from a dog walker who comes by to break up the day for long walks or playtime. Whatever you choose, consider your dog’s temperament and personality. If you know that separation anxiety is already an issue for them, you may want to reach out to your veterinarian and ask for additional ways to support your pet through outside resources.

Watch for Signs
As you prepare your pet for big changes in their routine, keep a careful eye on their behaviors and look for signs of anxiety. This could look like increased agitation and aggression, excessive barking, pacing, shaking, chewing and destructive behaviors. If you begin to notice your pet acting out in these ways, slow down and take a step back. Separation anxiety is very real for animals, and part of being a pet owner is supporting your pet through all of the phases of their life. Consult your veterinarian for support and ask for help when you need it. Together, you and your pet will find a way through these changes together.