As stay-at-home restrictions lift across the US, many of pets are seeing their humans going back to work. While this can be an exciting prospect for some to shake off their cooped-up cabin fever, it may be an entirely different story for our pets.
Sure, some cats will be relieved to have their house to themselves for a change. My cats will probably throw a straight-up nap party, they'll be so relieved to be able to sleep the day away without my constant cuddle interruptions. But the truth of the matter is some cats will have gotten used to their humans being home all the time – replete with extra attention, extra snuggles, extra treats – and it might not be so easy for them to let go of this ‘new normal’.
Cats are creatures of routine, and many cat owners can attest to felines exhibiting signs of stress or anxiety when there are sudden, unexpected changes to their daily routines. Signs a cat may be experiencing separation anxiety can include an increase in vocalization, overgrooming (to the point of bald or thinning patches of fur), destructive behavior and even urinating/defecating on items that smell like their favorite human.
So, what can you do to help get your cat (or cats) ready for the reality of your going back to work and prevent separation anxiety?
Set a New Routine
Cats are creatures of habit – and they thrive on routine! So if you’ve changed things up a bit since you began working remotely, it’s time to set a more realistic schedule for your kitty. Try getting up at your regular time, feed your cat, play with your cat, and provide them with time to rest independently.
Schedule Meal Times
If you’ve taken to free-feeding your cat when working remotely (or if you’ve always free-fed your cat), scheduling your cat’s feeding times can be a great way to get them to quickly adjust to a new routine. Aim for a schedule that you can maintain once you’re back at work. Consult a vet before any drastic changes to your cat’s diet or about how much food your cat needs.
Provide Environmental Enrichment
Providing your cat with “environmental enrichment” essentially means making sure your cat has some fun stuff to do while you’re not at home. While cats can sleep anywhere from 15-18 hours in a day, they still require mental and physical stimulation to stay happy and healthy! Your cat may have gotten used to more attention and playtime during the day when they would normally be napping or left to their own devices.
A fun, simple idea is adding a bird feeder outside your cat’s favorite window perch so they can watch for birds and squirrels – practically free entertainment! You might want to place their favorite catnip toy near the perch. Watching prey they can't reach might excite them into tackling and biting into a toy.
You can also try adding vertical space to your home - like a cat tree or cat shelves - so that your cat can have a place to play, climb, scratch, and nap. You can even hide your cat’s favorite treats or catnip toys in the top tiers of the tree, enticing your cat to forage and play throughout the day.
If your cat is especially food-motivated (who among us isn’t), a food puzzle or treat balls filled with your cat’s favorite snacks will help keep them busy for hours on end.
Be sure your cat has plenty of surfaces to scratch!
Cats scratch as a way to relieve stress, pent-up energy, and even to mark their territory. If your cat is feeling anxious with you being away, they may start to scratch on furniture or other unwanted areas as a way to make themselves feel more confident and in control of their “territory” (aka your home). Provide your cat with plenty of positive places to scratch – whether that’s a scratching post or tree or a cardboard scratcher, providing a scratching outlet for your cat can help curb unwanted destructive behavior.
Try not to feel too guilty.
It can be difficult to go back to work and leave our kitties at home, especially afte getting to bond with them for so many months. Cats are more empathetic than many people realize - our tones of voice, body language, and other anxieties are all registered and absorbed by our favorite felines. So if you're feeling anxious or upset, your cat may feel it too! The less of a big deal you make out of leaving for work in the morning, the less your cat will think of it, too.