Do you feel as though your dog or cat is suffering from depression? It’s not a silly question, especially if you’ve had a significant amount of change that impacts the animal. Have you had a child that went off to school? Have you moved to a new city? Have you had a job change that has altered your hours at home?
Chronic loneliness 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. Unfortunately, such psychological impact comes not only from a drastic change, but also from everyday seclusion, which most often occurs while owners are away at work.
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. And, the more social the pet’s nature, the higher probability that problems will be present and persist.
The good news is that there are ways you can lessen such stresses on these animals, to include these 5 tips:
- Exercise the 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 these furry friends 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’re out.
- 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 playdates. 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 will 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.