What Pet Owners Fear About Returning to Work and How to Ease That Anxiety

Over the past several months, countless people have carved out niches in their home for a work space due to shelter-in-place orders. For many people, this new "office" includes a pet bed where their four-legged friend can curl up beside them, providing a sense of "we’re in this together." In fact, more than two-thirds of pet owners feel that their pet has helped them with their mental health during lockdown, according to a new survey by Mira-Pet.

"If you and your pet have shared a home during lockdown, you will understand the importance of having them around during these stressful times," said officials from Mira-Pet, a brand specializing in oral hygiene technology for pets.

One in five pet owners, or 22 percent, fear separation anxiety from their pet when they return to work once lockdown has been fully lifted, according to the study of 3,000 pet owners across the United States.

"It appears many pet owners have developed stronger emotional bonds with their animals during this stressful pandemic period than before it happened," officials said. "This highlights the positive influence pets can have on your general well-being and health, particularly in times of adversity."

More than half, or 57 percent, of people think that having an office pet would boost team spirit and increase productivity, according to the survey.

Survey respondents also revealed the positive aspects of spending so much time with their pet during lockdown. For instance, 65 percent said their pet provided companionship; 19 percent said it reduced their anxiety; 9 percent said their pet became more affectionate; 5 percent said they felt safer being in lockdown with their pet; and 2 percent said their pet encouraged them to be more active.

Taking that into consideration, it’s easy to understand why some pet owners may experience feelings of separation anxiety, according to Stephen Spector, CEO of Techmira Corp., parent company of Mira-Pet in Canton, Mass. 

"To ease the emotional stress you may feel, if you have a housekeeper or loved one who is home during the day, you could ask them to video call you so you can check in on your pet," Spector said. "If you live alone, this option is slightly trickier but not impossible as there is an abundance of devices available online, such as webcams specifically for your pets."

Take note, however, that you may not be the only one finding it difficult to re-adjust. Your pet may find it equally as hard.

"After months in lockdown, your pet is used to you being home all day but what happens if you are an employee who is required to go back into the office after the pandemic has eased?" officials said. "Or if your weekly excursions become more regular than a couple trips to the grocery stores? While cats are typically more comfortable in their own company, dogs will feel the separation more. A quarter (26 percent) of pet owners say they are worried their pet will have separation anxiety when lockdown restrictions are fully lifted and they spend less time at home."

To help prepare your pet for post-lockdown life, Mira-Pet offered the following advice:

  • Health boost. "Get your pet in tip-top condition, including their oral hygiene," officials said. "Problems with your pet’s dental care can cause a multitude of internal organ issues. You don’t necessarily have to pay a visit to the vet to check their teeth but we still recommend you do."
  • Pretend you are at work. "Allow your pet to get used to you not being around by working in a different room with the door shut during the day," officials said. "This will help them get back into a routine again."
  • Don’t make a big deal of your exit. "Or entrance," officials added. "When you leave or enter the house, don’t make an occasion of it. If you pet acts up when you arrive home, try ignoring them for a few minutes to encourage them to settle down."
  • ‘Settling’ your pet. "If you let them slide during lockdown, now is a good time to re-establish boundaries with your pet, encouraging them to remain calm and quiet," officials said.
  • Music. "A silent home may come as a shock to your pet once you return to work," officials noted. "Play some relaxing music in the background—it can have a drastically positive effect on their overall mood and behavior."
  • Happy departure. "Transform the time that you have to leave for work into the best part of your pet’s day," officials said. "Give them a treat at this time to keep them distracted and happy. They might not even notice you are gone."
  • Exercise routine. "Get your pet back into an exercise routine," officials said. "Take them on a walk first thing in the morning and later at night to help match your post-lockdown work schedule."

Of course, there are also negative aspects of being in lockdown with your pet, officials said pointing to the survey. For example, 45 percent of people said the worse aspect was that their pet is very loud, 24 percent said it was having to clean up their pet’s mess more regularly, 17 percent said their pet was a distraction from work and 14 percent said it was their pet’s bad breath that made it the hardest.

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