Latest data sees rise in separation anxiety as Canadian pet owners start to return to office

separation anxiety

Separation anxiety – Research revealing how Canadian pet owners feel about returning to the office. Since 64 per cent say their pet has provided them with emotional support during the pandemic, and 66 per cent of Canadian dog owners describe their pup as their best friend, it’s not surprising that nearly a third (29 per cent) of Canadian pet owners say that they would be more willing to return to the office if their pet could join them.

However, as many organizations start to implement hybrid models, the return to work isn’t a black-and- white matter. With the future of work comes new routines, and routine establishment is the key to success when it comes to lowering anxiety for pet and pet owner alike.

separation anxiety
Dogs separation anxiety

“For many pets, particularly those adopted during the pandemic, always being with their owner is all they know. As we start to return to the office in the coming months, and explore the idea of a hybrid working model, we need to actively create conditions through which our pets will continue to thrive,” says Arnaud Christ, Scientific and Corporate Affairs Director at Royal Canin Canada. “At Royal Canin, we believe pets make the world a better place and that it is our responsibility to make the world a better place for pets. With a few guiding principles, we can help ease their transition so that they positively embrace yet another new normal.”

In the past year, ‘pandemic’ pet ownership has soared with almost 3 in 10 Canadian pet owners adopting a new pet, and 70 per cent say their pet helps to relieve stress and worry. As any pet owner knows, many factors can disrupt a pet’s routine, such as rolling back the clocks for daylight savings, a move, or even a visit away from home. With a focus on supporting and educating Canadians as they navigate the increase in anxiety due to separation that return to work may bring for both employees and pets, Royal Canin aims to provide pet owners with guidance on how best to transition through the power of routine.

Support from pets goes well beyond COVID-19, with many pet owners saying their pets help them manage their work or school stress. Not only does leaving pets at home mean no longer having them in the same physical space together, but 48 per cent say they are more capable of managing their stress levels working or studying with their pet near them. As more businesses begin to welcome back employees to the physical workplace, pet owners are understandably concerned about how their new work routine will affect their mental health as well as the wellbeing of their furry friends.

While a change in routine can be difficult on pets and pet owners alike, ensuring pets are comfortable alone before the owner leaves for the office is an essential part of establishing a healthy routine. Canadian Veterinarian and Specialist in Animal Behaviour, Dr. Colleen Wilson, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviourists, shares tips and tricks to help owners transition their pet.

“When owners teach their pet a positive association with their departures, it is the start to a positive association emotionally with their absence. Like people, pets like routine and routine departures communicate to the pet “when my owner leaves, it isn’t a big deal.” We want our pets to know they can cope with the owner’s absence and starting this new association slowly, builds a strong foundation for success,” says Dr. Colleen Wilson, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviourists.

How best to establish a successful return to work transition for your pet

Before returning to work, find out if your pet is experiencing separation anxiety and if so, to what degree. If an owner determines their pet is anxious when alone, they can set up a routine and use the following strategies to help reduce anxiety with departures. This contributes to a positive transition back to the office, whether back to a hybrid or full-time model.

Tip 1: To confirm if your pet is suffering from separation anxiety, audio or video record the pet when alone in the home. This set up can be placed anywhere the owner will be able to hear and/or see their pet.

Tip 2: If you’ve noticed typical anxiety related behaviours such as excessive salivation, vocalization, destructive behaviours and/or elimination only when alone, it’s time to help your pet feel better by starting “independence training.” Begin by establishing what treat or food puzzle toy leads the pet to focus its attention on it for about 15-20 minutes.

Tip 3: Once established, the owner can start moving around the room, monitoring the pet for continued focus on the treat/food. Gradually, progressing slowly, the owner can leave the room for a few seconds to minutes, all the while the animal is feeling good, focused on their food toy/treat.

Tip 4: During this initial conditioning to “feel good” in the owner’s absence, an owner always returns to the pet while they are focused on the food/treat. Because the animal is experiencing a positive emotional state in the owner’s absence, this can communicate: “Don’t worry, I am coming back” and makes comings and goings un-eventful. This contributes to a healthy transition for a return-to-work schedule, either full time or part of the time because the routine for departure is always sending this same message.

Tip 5: Attempts to teach independence at a faster pace (e.g., walking to the nearby mailbox or running a quick errand), without ensuring the pet is relaxed and feeling good in the owner’s absence, can lead to “sensitization.” This means the animal is easily triggered to feel anxious whenever the owner leaves. If attempts at independence training are not successful, then it is time to consult with your veterinarian or veterinary behaviourist to discuss other treatment options.

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