It’s hard to watch your super sweet but somewhat clingy cat whining and pacing when you leave for work or to go on a well-deserved vacation. It’s only natural for pets and people to feel sad when they’re separated, because the bond we’ve forged is strong. Pets are considered members of the family.
But when you start to get teary-eyed over the prospect of leaving your stressed cat, it’s healthy to learn ways to relax when you have to part from each other. Our expert, Dr. Stephanie Liff, DVM and medical director of Pure Paws Vet Care in New York City, offers the following five smart tips for dealing with dog and cat separation anxiety.
Learn your pet’s cues. Fortunately, not every dog or cat will exhibit stressed-out behaviors when separated from their owners. “Pets with these issues can have varying degrees of anxiety,” reports Dr. Liff. For mild cases, your pet might enjoy listening to music or the TV while you’re gone, she offers. “Other [pets may] prefer to sit quietly in a safe space, such as a play pen or their dog crates with a cover on top,” she adds.
Offer special treats and toys. Most pets love to eat and look forward to treat time, so you might take advantage of this when you’re traveling or on vacation. “Very often, if a clingy cat isn’t too anxious, she can be appeased by providing a high-value treat,” says Dr. Liff. You might stash a treat inside a toy so your pet has to work to get it out. This gives him a project to keep him occupied while you’re gone. It’s also smart to put out a series of playthings that are new to your pets. This way, they’ll have something exciting to look forward to. Try out challenging dog toys to keep your pet entertained, like the Outward Hound Hide-A-Squirrel Puzzle Dog Toy. A stressed cat might also like to try a new toy, like the Petstages Tower of Tracks Cat Toy.
Sign up for some training. For more extreme cases of separation anxiety in dogs, particularly those that involve vocalization (lots of barking or crying) and home soiling, Dr. Liff recommends working with a trainer. This is especially important if you live in an apartment building or have neighbors close by who might be bothered by the ruckus coming from your home. A stressed dog might also benefit from medication, says Dr. Liff. “A prescription can ease anxiety early in the development of the issue,” she explains.
Consider a monitoring system. Pet lovers who are dealing with their own travel anxiety might want to turn to technology, though it depends on the owner. “I find that some clients benefit from watching their animals on a pet camera or an app through their phones,” shares Dr. Liff. If you think you’d like to sneak a peek at your pup or kitty to help with dog and cat separation anxiety, check out the Petcube Bites Wi-Fi Camera & Treat Dispenser, which allows you to see what your fur baby is up to during the day and give them a treat for good behavior.
Find a reputable walker, pet sitter or day care. Pet owners tend to feel much better about leaving their animals behind when they’ve arranged for a friendly walker or sitter to stop by during the day. “It’s imperative to have this set up,” agrees Dr. Liff. And if your pup enjoys socializing with other dogs, look into a day care situation. Pet day care provides a supervised outlet for animals, and it eases owners’ minds, too, she adds. You can easily check in with your pet sitter or walker during the day for updates. You can monitor your pet’s whereabouts with the Link AKC GPS & Activity Monitor Smart Collar or track your dog’s playtime, sleep and general well-being with the FitBark 2 Water Resistant Dog Activity & Sleep Monitor.
Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a New York City writer/editor and the mom of two teenage girls. She’s also the devoted owner of a rescue pup named Django, a temperamental Shepherd mix. Geddes has worked for Food & Wine, Parenting, Seventeen and Airbnb magazines and creates content for dozens of sites, including Care, Fisher-Price, the National Sleep Foundation and Realtor.