If you’re anything like me, you feel guilty daily as you leave your pet home alone. You wonder what he does all day, how much he misses you, and if he’s sad and lonely. Because most pets are social creatures, they tend to thrive in the company of humans or other animals, says veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney of California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness.
Since pet owners work, spend time with family and friends, and go on vacations, they’re not always the best playmates to their furry friends. They don’t constantly have time or energy to spend with their pets. Lonely pets are a lot like lonely humans – they become aggressive, depressed, and eat and sleep excessively. Because of their obesity, specifically, Dr. Mahaney says serious health problems like arthritis, intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), diabetes, constipation, skin problems, and high blood pressure can occur.
When you’re getting ready to leave, is your pet destructive or anxious? Does she hide, appear withdrawn, or show aggression? Is she barking, crying, or pacing? If so, she may be lonely, bored, and experiencing separation anxiety. Clinical signs of separation anxiety include vocalizing, pacing, salivating, inappropriate defecation and urination, and destructive behaviors like scratching or chewing to be freed from any type of contained space, says Dr. Mahaney.
If you are concerned that your pet is having health or behavioral problems related to living a solo existence, take her to the vet first to rule out any medical conditions. Because pets can’t tell us when they’re sick, they also exhibit some of the aforementioned symptoms to alert us that they’re not feeling too hot.
But if she is cleared by the vet and has a clean bill of health, she may just be lonely.
Here are eight ways to help your pet feel less blue while you’re gone:
1. Let her look outside
Pets are super visual creatures. They like to look out the window and watch squirrels, birds, and rabbits run around, even if they can’t go after them themselves. My dog Henry looks out the bedroom window when I’m at work, and I think it helps the day pass by more quickly for him.
2. Keep him occupied
Make sure he has plenty of toys to stay busy and distracted while you’re away. His favorite, familiar things – like his toys, bed, and blanket – should be accessible. If you have a cat, make sure he has plenty of scratching posts around the house. For my dog, I sometimes fill one of his Kong toys with peanut butter and freeze it overnight. Then when I leave, I give him the toy to a) distract him; and b) teach him that me leaving doesn’t have to be a bad or negative experience.
3. Play music or put on the television
Sights and sounds are comforting and distracting for pets, as long as the volume is at a reasonable level. And what music is best to calm and relax your pet? Classical music. Cats specifically enjoy the violins in classical music while dogs prefer it mixed with a little ambient noise like dogs barking or people talking. Bach on!
4. Get him a sibling
But do it the right way and for the right reasons. Make sure it’s for his physical or mental well-being and not for your guilt. Finding a new companion for your current pet shouldn't be a spontaneous event, advises Dr. Mahaney. "If your veterinarian deems your pet healthy enough to have a household companion and if you have the financial means and available time to appropriately care for multiple pets, then the process of pursuing an additional pet can be pursued." And take your pet along for the adoption process. Don’t assume they’re going to get along — if you bring him home and they hate each other, you’re going to be in a difficult spot.
5. Socialize her
If you think she needs socialization, set up a play date, take her to the park, or consider enrolling her in daycare. It will help you decide if she needs a constant playmate (like a sibling) or just a friend from time to time.
6. Go home on your lunch break
Or ask a friend to stop over. It will help break up the day for your pet (and yourself!) and allow some one-on-one time. If you have a dog, hiring a dog walker is also a great idea – your dog gets to see a friendly face, is able to use the restroom, and gets some exercise.
7. Exercise her before you leave
Take her for an early run or walk or play a game with her in the house. If she exerts a lot of energy early in the day, she will be tired and less anxious that you’re leaving. What’s more, she’ll start to look forward to those active moments with you in the morning instead of dreading the fact that you’re going to work.
8. Talk to your vet
If her depression and anxiety doesn’t improve – especially after weeks or months of trying various techniques – talk to your vet or behavioral specialist about other options. You don’t want your pet or home to be in disarray.
Like us, pets get lonely from time to time. They get anxious, nervous, and sad when we’re gone, wishing they could text or Facetime. But absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? If you spend time with your pet daily – providing tons of TLC and attention – and give her distractions, toys, and Mozart while you’re gone, the feelings of loneliness will dissipate.