Returning to Work: What About Your Pets?

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Two cats in an office without a person

Your pets are going to miss you! For more than a year, they’ve believed that you wisely quit your job and made the excellent decision to stay home with them 24 hours a day.

Now, a harsh reality is going to take hold: You tricked them; you still have a job. A job that wants you back. A job that, if you refuse to make an appearance, might stop providing the all-important dog and cat food. Uh-oh.

What will my pets or foster pet do all day now?

The same thing they did when you were home: sleep most of the time. But don’t worry. Your pets don’t need you to entertain them 24 hours a day. Most pets are members of families with jobs and they’re just fine. However, if you’d like to make sure they don’t get bored, here are some ideas:

  • Before you go to work, tire them out with a jog or a riveting game of fetch or catch-the-string. That way, they’ll be more likely to snooze the day away.
  • Hire a dog walker to stop by and take your pup for an excursion while you’re gone.
  • Hire someone to take your cat for a ride in a stroller.
  • Leave a Kong (for a dog) or a puzzle feeder (for a cat) or any other toy you deem safe for your particular pet. You want them to use their mental muscles as well as their physical ones.

The most important thing, though, is that you make the most of the time you do spend together. After all, it’s not entertainment that your pets truly want — it’s you!

What if my return to work gives them separation anxiety?

For some pets, it might. Being alone is something your pets haven’t had to experience for a while. They may have forgotten that you’re going to come back. When you go out, they may think this is it: The most important person in the entire world (that’s you) has decided to move away and never return.

For some pets, that will just be worrying. For others, it can make them freak out completely. We all have different levels of “chill.” Here are some tips for dealing with a dog or cat who really gets upset when you leave:

  • Practice leaving briefly before you try a full day of work. Just go to the mailbox, then come back. Next, walk down the block, then come back. Then make a quick run to the store. The idea is to get your pets familiar with the routine of you leaving and then returning, to help build their trust that you will always come back.
  • To make your pets less worried about signs that you are leaving, pick up your keys and grab your purse occasionally, and then set them down again.
  • Don’t give huge goodbyes when you leave or huge hellos when you return. It may feel unnatural, but you want to make coming and going very ho-hum and boring.
  • Create a safe, comfortable place for your pets to hang out while you’re gone. For some, that may be a quiet room. For others, it may be a crate. Having a special space can be reassuring to some pets.
  • Play music, an audiobook or the TV while you’re gone. Some dogs really like reggae or jazz, and some cats get into nature shows.
  • If anxiety is a general problem, give your anxious pet lots of love and attention for being relaxed. Don’t provide attention when your pet is acting crazy, though, because that will up the energy.
  • As mentioned above, leave your pets with things to do, like working on a food puzzle, to distract them. And it helps to tire them out before you leave. Play with your cat using a wand toy or play fetch with your dog.

What if you have a dog who simply can’t be left alone safely no matter what you try, and you’re worried that she’ll tear up the furniture or hurt herself? That’s what doggy daycare is for! The staff can look after your pooch while you head off confidently to work. It will be like you’re carpooling to work together. “Here’s your stop. I’ll come get you at 5:15.” Find one where she seems excited to arrive and happily tired when you pick her up, and your dog will love it.

Might it be better to return my pet or foster pet to the shelter instead of leaving him alone all day?

Oh, heavens no. Your pet or foster pet is so much happier with you (even though you insist on going to work) than he would be at a shelter. There’s just no comparison. By adopting or fostering a pet, you are saving lives. And there isn’t one pet at any shelter who wouldn’t be thrilled to have you, even if you’re gone during the day. So, hang in there. You can do this! And so can Fido and Fluffy.