5 Ways to Help a Lonely Pet
Chronic loneliness and social isolation is not only debilitating for humans; dogs and cats can also suffer the psychological, and perhaps physical, impacts of being alone and not emotionally connected or engaged on a regular basis. Pet loneliness, which differs from separation anxiety, can manifest from a new or temporary situation triggered by changes like moving to a new home, a teenager going off to college, or a significant schedule alteration for the owner. More worryingly, it can be a long-term problem caused by prolonged seclusion—a situation that, unfortunately, becomes a way of life for many of our nation’s four-legged family members.
There is debate as to whether or not research on chronic loneliness, proven to have direct links to impeding both the mental and physical health of humans—including conditions like dementia, insomnia, anxiety, depression and potentially lethal heart disease—impacts pets in similar ways. More certainly, however, even beyond potential ominous health concerns, lonely pets can be unhappy, bored and lethargic. This often leads to a variety of unsavory behaviors and dissatisfaction for all involved. The more social the pet’s nature, the higher probability that problems will be present and persist.
(Fortunately, my Cici, the Polka Dot Princess, is rarely home alone. And when she is, her couch or my bed or her house (her crate) are where she resides and sleeps until I come back). But not all dogs are so lucky. In addition to the list below, we would add, put the TV or radio on or some comforting canine music, give them a familiar article of clothing with your smell on it, and/or depending upon their level of separation anxiety, you might give them a dose of Rescue Remedy or another all natural calming remedy before you leave, to keep them happy. You could also bring them to doggie daycare or hire a pet sitter or dog walker on a regular basis if possible.
To help keep America’s dogs and cats more stimulated and satisfied during “alone time,” Paul Mann, Founder and CEO of FETCH! Pet Care, offers these 5 tips on how to avoid pet loneliness and turn this sad face into a happy doggie smile: (you know the sad eyes face that they give you before you leave when they know they are not going with you)
- Exercise a pet before exiting: As close as possible to the time you leave a pet alone, give them a physical workout. Take your dog on a brisk walk or play a game of fetch, and play a game of laser tag or “chase the string” with your cat.This exercise will tire and calm your pet physically so they can utilize the alone time to catch up on rest and recuperation. It also exhilarates them emotionally, fostering a healthier state of mind.
- Arrange regular midday visits: The best-case scenario is when an owner can come home at least once during the business day, perhaps for lunch, to spend a little quality time with Fido or Felix.Those whose schedule or commute doesn’t always allow for this should consider hiring a professional dog walker or pet sitter who can stimulate your furry friend and provide regular affection, companionship, socialization and exercise.
- Provide engaging play toys: Leave your dog or cat’s favorite toys and anything else you can think of so they can remain entertained in your absence.While treats may not last long in toys, you can also try inserting or freezing them inside a toy to provide a mental challenge. There are also puzzle game treat dispensers on the market that encourage a dog’s natural foraging behavior by stimulating their sense of smell. Dogs learn to lift the compartment covers and rotate the toy to retrieve the hidden treats, keeping them happy and engaged. There are also a bevy of fun and challenging play-alone activity toys for cats available like motorized wands, automatic cat teasers and even a scampering self-correcting mouse that automatically moves to engage natural hunting instincts.
- Capitalize on sensory stimulants: Be it an outdoor shady and well-protected space in the yard where your pet can watch birds, squirrels and other wildlife, watching Animal Planet on TV, or seeing or hearing you through a web-connected device at certain times of the day, there are many ways to ensure your pet has entertainment and peace-of-mind while you are away.
- Find a furry friend: Many pets enjoy spending time with other animals, whether they be the same breed or type of pet, or not. Many dogs and cats play quite well together. A common solution is to adopt a second pet as a companion for your dog or cat but, if that isn’t a viable solution, pre-arrange pet play dates. Perhaps you have a friend or family member’s pet over one day, and alternate so the other party takes your pet on other days, Of course, take the time to consider how your pet would react to this and what kind of pet is ideal. Optimally, do a test run over multiple hours with you on location to observe the interaction and behaviors before leaving the two animals “home alone” together.
Avoiding, rectifying or reversing a pet’s state of loneliness can have tremendous and immediate benefits for the animal and the household at large. Following even a few of the tips above will improve a pet’s quality of life and surely get their tail wagging again.
Paul Mann is the Founder and CEO of Fetch! Pet Care—the nation’s largest and most trusted franchisor for professional pet sitting, dog walking, and pet fitness/exercise services—serving thousands of pets and pet parents throughout the United States from coast to coast. He may be reached online at: www.FetchPetCare.com.