How do we help our pets adjust when we eventually go back to work?

Research shows that pets are key to helping many of us get through stressful situations such as COVID-19. So, how do we ensure they’re looked after when we finally return to work?

There’s no doubt that the majority of us are doing our best to abide by the various rules enforced due to coronavirus– whether we’re slowly returning to work in the less restricted states of Australia, or staying inside in the strictly locked-down Victoria. 

For many of us, it has been our pets that have seen us through – night after night, Netflix binge after Netflix binge. And they continue to do so. 

Let’s take a look at the science behind how pets help to lift our moods, and what we can do to help them in return when we eventually transition to life outside the home. 

Why pets are beneficial in stressful times

A study from the US sought to find an objective measurement of how interacting with animals affected uni students – a segment of the population often under stress. 

They did this by testing students’ cortisol levels before and after they patted and played with cats and dogs. Cortisol is commonly known as “the stress hormone”, and levels in the body give a reasonable indication of anxiety or tension. 

The research found cortisol levels went down in students who interacted with the animals. 

One of the researchers involved in the study, Patricia Pendry, said this was important because “the reduction of stress hormones may, over time, have significant benefits for physical and mental health”. 

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How to prepare pets for your eventual return to the outside world

For Victorians, we recommend thinking about these tips for your eventual return to the outside world – whether that be this year or in 2021. For other locations, you may be able to start sooner. 

Distance yourself in increments

Chances are your pet has only seen you leave for small windows of time here and there over the past few months – whether that be for grocery shopping or exercise. 

Try increasing the amount of time you leave your pet alone gradually. If you’re in a state without lockdown restrictions, this may mean physically going out for longer periods day-by-day.

If you’re in Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne, or Stage 3 in wider Victoria, this will look more like stepping into your backyard, or another room, without your pet – slowly increasing the time spent away from them day by day. 

Set a schedule

Janelle Metiva, certified professional dog trainer and behaviour specialist, advises setting up a regular routine and schedule to help your pets adjust. 

“Feed and exercise pets at the same time and provide them a time to rest independently,” she says. 

“Independent activities, such as a food puzzle or playing with a chew toy can be helpful in encouraging alone time for pets.” she adds. 

As our pets continue to help us through the roller coaster that is 2020, let’s return the favour by ensuring they’re adequately prepared for our return to the “norm” – whatever and whenever that may be. 

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