Ask Aunty Zoo: How To Handle Separation Anxiety

In our new monthly series it’s no paws, beaks or scales barred as our animal friends write in to seek out answers to the issues most on their minds. 

This week we hear from a stressed pup who's not sure why they are spending the days on their lonesome all of a sudden.

 Dog suffering from separation anxiety agony aunt question

Dear Aunty Zoo,

Something strange has happened at my house. The hoomans have started disappearing for the longest times! I used to keep their feet warm when they were on the compawter. I would do my bestest to help out with the hooman scraps at lunchtime. And we would even go for neighbourhood walkies most days, some days even twice a day! But now…  I barely see them and they leave the house without me.

I try to be the goodest boy but it gets ruff once they leave, my big brother Boris told me it’s how things used to be before I was born and that I’ll get used to it, but I reckon he’s barking up the wrong tree because he’s too busy sleeping, snoring and farting to notice what’s been going on. I’m finding things a bit ruff so you gotta tell me Dr Zoo: Will things ever go back to pawmal? 

- Confursed in Collingwood


Dear Confursed in Collingwood,

First of all, I can assure you that you are not alone. In fact, thousands of other dogs, cats, birds and bunnies (and even a few fish) have been writing in from across Australia to share their household stories with me. What you are all experiencing is a fur-nomena known as ‘hoomans going back to the office and school’.  And since those of you under two years old wouldn’t have had much exposure to this before, I do have to say that your brother Boris, while no doubt smelly,  is also right: it’s pawfectly normal. To help get you back to feeling like yourself in the fastest way possible, I’ve consulted with my furvourite behavioural expert Karen ‘Kazza’ the dog walker and she had these things to say fur you – and your hoomans. 

 Practice being apart

It can be very overwhelming for pets (and even their humans!) to go from seeing each other all day every day to spending most of the day without any interaction. I completely understand. To help with this, I recommend that fur families normalise being apart for small periods of time, so that it won’t feel quite so strange when you’re apart for hours on end. So what do I mean by practising? Owners should take the lead by leaving the room for a few minutes, and coming in and out like it’s no big deal. Keep gradually increasing the distance in your practice sessions, at different times of day or night, until your fur babies become more confident in their own company. Oh… and don’t be tempted to give a treat unless you’re actually leaving for real! You want your pets to make the association that going out can actually be a good thing for them. 

 Distraction can work a treat

Owners, for this exercise I suggest taking a look around the house through the eyes of your pets. Ask yourself,  how can you make your home a fur-friendly haven by relieving boredom or bringing on feelings of safety and security? It could be as simple as stuffing a healthy treat inside a tuff chewing toy that keeps teeth busy for hours. It might be taking an extra few minutes before you leave to groom your cat into a sleepy state of comfort and calm, or even introducing a fun way to scratch and claw the day away. Hint: If your pets have already taken matters  into their own paws by leaving chewed shoes and scratched sofas within their midst, it’s time to make this a priority!

 Play. Walk. Run. Sniff. Sleep. Repeat.

Because there’s nothing like bringing on the zzzz’s to help lessen separation anxiety, good old-fashioned energy zapping activities are at the top of my list. Cats love a good climbing or puzzle session to wear them out. And for multi-tasking dog owners, waking up 30 minutes earlier for a fast-paced walkies session does wonders for both of you! But if that’s not always possible and you’re away all week, you might want to consider a professional dog-walker for a few days. Just be sure to check at your local park for recommendations and always arrange a meet and greet and trial walkies session first!


A last word from Aunty Zoo…

To Confursed in Collingwood, and all the other pets and humans who’ve read today’s issue. I’d love to know how you’re getting on with these top tips to deal with ‘hoomans going back to the office and school’,  so don’t furget to leave me a comment below!  

In the meantime, if you have something on your meow-nd that needs an expert to advise, send us a question on instagram or facebook, or leave a comment on this post with your query and we'll put it to Aunty Zoo.

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