6 Tips to Help Manage Pet Separation Anxiety

Dog looking out an open window

Many Canadian households welcomed a pet over the past year during the pandemic. With many people being at home 24/7, it provided a great opportunity to bond with a new dog or cat. However, with all this time together, humans aren’t the only ones who have grown an attachment. Pets have also become accustomed to always having their owners around.

So how can we get our pets used to this separation without causing too much anxiety?

We asked Pets Plus Us® Veterinary Advisor, Dr. Jennifer Sperry, to share some advice on how to manage separation anxiety and set your pets up for success.

Here are 6 simple tips that can help.

Set boundaries early on.

A cute little boy training his dog

Although it’s tempting to want to spend all your time with your new pet, it can backfire down the road. Even with a weeks-old kitten or puppy, you can start to make them feel safe and comfortable being alone for short periods of time. It’s good for both of you to have time apart – even if that’s simply in separate rooms. An enclosure (like a gate or a crate) helps set expectations and boundaries. It may seem hard at first, but getting your pet comfortable with being apart from you while you’re both at home can help them tolerate your absence better and alleviate anxiety when you leave the house.

Start small.

Mixed race girl petting family cat before leaving for school

To help your pets become comfortable with being alone, start with very short intervals of time like 5 to 15 minutes so they can learn that you’re coming back and nothing bad will happen while you’re gone. Try to return just before your pet starts to show signs of anxiety, like whining, crying or pacing. As your pet becomes more comfortable being alone, gradually increase the length of time. At first, you can simply go into another room and leave them in their crate so you can listen for signs of anxiety. Then, try a short walk around the block or quick errand. Eventually, you’ll be able to leave them for longer stretches.

How long is it ok to leave your pet alone?

Since young pets need to go to the bathroom more frequently and require more play time and stimulation, they shouldn’t be left alone for long periods during the day at first. The rule of thumb is that the maximum amount of time a puppy can be left alone in a crate during the day should match their age in months. For example, a four-month old puppy shouldn’t be alone in a crate for more than four hours during the day. An adult dog that is used to a crate can be in it for a good part of the day, but shouldn’t be left for more than 8 hours.

Make sure their needs are met.

A yawning Chocolate Labrador puppy sitting in large dog bowl - 5 weeks old

The time to introduce a new scenario to your pet, like leaving them alone, is when they are sleepy and relaxed. When you’re training your pet to be left alone, give them the benefit of being tired, well fed and comfortable. After a little play time or walk, some treats and a bathroom break, your pet will be more likely to be content with some quiet alone time. If you’re leaving your pet to roam free in the house while you’re gone, just make sure you leave them a bowl of water.

Distract them with a toy or treat.

Beautiful Chartreux cat sitting among  the group of cat toys on the floor, toys making circle

Whether you’re putting your pet in their crate or another room for a little break, or leaving the house for a couple of hours, it’s a good idea to give them a distraction toy. Pick a toy that requires a lot of focus and will keep them busy and stimulated so they don’t notice your absence as much. Treat balls (or any toy with a treat hidden inside), frozen treats or treat puzzles are all great distractions – and the bonus is they’ll get rewarded for their efforts.

Leave without fanfare.

The unrecognizable young adult woman leaves her house carrying a purse.  She is leaving through the front door.

Try not to make a big deal of your departure. The more attention you draw to you being about to leave, the more they’ll think something bad is about to happen. Don’t spend a lot of time petting your dog or playing with them right before you leave, because they’ll notice your absence more. Simply talk your pet in a calm voice, put them in their crate or encloser with their distraction toy and go. The less fuss you make when you leave, the less anxious they’ll be.

Keep things status quo.

Rear view shot of pet watching television

If you can, try to make the environment the same as when you’re home. For example, if you often have the TV on or music playing when you’re home, you might want to consider leaving it on when you go out to make your pet feel comfortable. However, if your home is generally pretty quiet, don’t turn on the TV or radio before you go, as that will turn into a signal that you’re about to leave and may make your pet anxious.

The best part about leaving your pet alone for a while is coming home to them. Your little furball will be so excited to see you, they’ll forget that you ever left.

Disclaimer: This information and the opinions expressed in this blog are based on research and interviews with the authorities identified, conducted on behalf of Allstate Canada. They have been provided for your convenience only and should not be construed as legal or insurance advice.