Don’t Forget to Factor in the Challenges of Pet Ownership
As wonderful as they are, dogs also present challenges to their owners. Most people well suited for dog ownership learn to cope with these challenges easily enough, but for others, dogs may bring more stress than they resolve.
For example, you will need to walk and feed your dog on a semi-regular schedule, which may lead to additional stress for those who work long hours or have other responsibilities keeping them away from the house for long periods of time.
If you have a large or active breed, you’ll have to be willing to take long, frequent walks with your pooch.
You will also have to shoulder the considerable financial burdens associated with dog ownership. In addition to the weekly expenses of food, treats, and incidentals, you’ll have to be ready to cover any necessary veterinary bills.
Even the healthiest of dogs require periodic immunizations, checkups, and regular teeth cleanings.
Remember that each dog is an individual, and even the twitchiest Chihuahua may help alleviate your anxiety – you have to match your personality to that of your pet.
Have you been able to lower your anxiety by acquiring a dog? Which breed did you choose, and how has that worked out for you? Let us know in the comments below.
Returning to Work? Prevent Pet (and Human) Separation Anxiety
by Roxanne Hawn, AARP, August 20, 2020 | Comments: 0
Vivian Alford, 58, is more worried about leaving her dog, Bingo, home alone than contracting COVID-19 by returning to work as a senior library specialist.
After quarantining for months, Alford went back to her Atlanta branch in late July, working six days on and then having six days off. Bingo marked Alford's absence by moving couch cushions to the floor and chewing up recycling. “I think he was frustrated that I wasn't here,” she says.
However, Alford may be feeling more anxiety about the separation than her pet. “I'm just so attached to this dog,” she says. “I feel like we bonded more than we ever have."
During quarantine, people and pets have connected as never before. Pandemic interest in pet ownership skyrocketed — the Humane Society of the United States estimates that the rates of pet fostering spiked by 90 percent. People are working from home with birds perched on their shoulders and cats crashing video meetings. And with travel restricted, many owners aren't leaving their pets behind this summer during vacations as they normally might.
But now some workplaces, schools and universities are beginning to reopen. That means people and pets may feel anxious about being apart after months of togetherness. In fact, concern about pets’ well-being is one of the most significant worries people have about returning to in-office work, says Nicole Vykoukal, a psychotherapist in Austin, Texas.
"Guilt, anxiety and worry that furry loved ones will not adapt well to separation and being alone has been a top concern for clients I work with,” she says.
Courtesy of Vivian Alford
Most pets will adjust
During the quarantine period, Bingo “was living his best life,” even with his hospital therapy dog work canceled and dog parks closed, Alford says. They went on lots of walks together — she lost 15 pounds, he lost 2 1/2 — and explored new terrain.
Now, Alford worries Bingo may get bored or lonely and feels guilty she's away for up to nine hours a day.
Experts say pets left home alone before the pandemic likely will adjust fine over time. New puppies and kittens who've only known life with everyone home may struggle.
"We do not have evidence that separation anxiety diagnoses will increase with people returning to work outside the home with this pandemic,” says Danielle Winkelman, a behavior therapy technician at the Veterinary Behavior Center in Boulder, Colorado. However, she says, some symptoms of separation anxiety in pets are known to occur “during or after life transitions in general."
Alan Roberts, 55, has been working from home in New York City with his feline pals Poca and Mooski since March. His constant presence has changed their behavior. “They are much less needy. They're very, very chill,” he says. “If it was up to them, this would never end."
But Roberts is looking for a work space that better suits his professional needs, which will mean time away from his cats. He isn't too worried about feline anxiety or loneliness “because they have each other” — adding, “They're older, too, so they don't tend to act out as much.”
Easing the transition
Pet experts say owners should watch for warning signs of anxiety that go beyond run-of-the mill shoe chewing or excessive meowing. Signs of true separation anxiety may be similar to a panic attack and can be a cause for concern, says Trish McMillan, a certified professional dog trainer and dog behavior consultant in Mars Hill, North Carolina.
Dogs with separation anxiety may be unable to eat or drink when left alone or may try to escape confinement, damaging property or injuring themselves. Others constantly bark or whine, urinate or defecate when left alone, or pace and drool. The behaviors of anxious cats mirror those in dogs but may also include psychogenic grooming — obsessively licking themselves to the point of hair loss.
To ease these behaviors, try leaving pets with interesting edible chewies or food-stuffed toys to occupy them, and consider leaving the radio or television on so pets can hear voices. Be matter-of-fact about leaving and returning to create a calm transition for pets.
In severe cases, Winkelman suggests consulting professionals. If you don't have a board-certified veterinary behaviorist nearby, look for one that offers remote consults in collaboration with your veterinarian. A certified separation anxiety trainer is another option.
Separation anxiety happens when a dog that’s hyper-attached to their owner gets super-stressed when left alone. It's more than a little whining when you leave or a bit of mischief while you’re out. It's a serious condition and one of the main reasons owners get frustrated with their dogs and give them up. But there are plenty of things you can do to help.
First, understand what causes your dog to act this way:
- Being left alone for the first time or when they are used to being with people
- Change of ownership
- Moving from a shelter to a home
- Change in family routine or schedule
- Loss of a family member