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Supporting Your Pet When You Return to Work

Blog Home Jun 18, 2021

It’s no surprise that our furry friends have become accustomed to having us around a fair bit over the last year or so! 

They’ve been by our sides (or on our laps), giving us a lift on the not-so-good days, encouraging us to get out of the house for walkies and fresh air (are we right, dog parents?), not to mention being a constant source of amusement with their daft antics.  

As much as most of us are welcoming the return to a more normal life, many dog and cat owners are struggling with the prospect of leaving their four-legged friend behind as they start to spend more time away from home, including going into the office. Our survey of 1,000 UK pet parents with pooches revealed:

Almost one in ten (8%) owners declared that if they were unable to bring their pooch to work with them, they would consider the drastic move of quitting their job!*

Pets in the workplace

Our research shows that over a quarter (28%) of dog owners want to take their pooch into the office for the first time after lockdown restrictions ease.

Pets bring so many benefits to the workplace! Here are just a few… 

  • Lowering stress levels. Just the action of stroking a dog releases oxytocin, otherwise known as the ‘love hormone’. In turn, this helps to reduce heart rate and blood pressure. 
  • A great morale boost! C’mon, who doesn’t feel giddy and excited when there’s a dog around?
  • Supporting collaborative working. Yes! Believe it or not, a 2010 study at Central Michigan University proved that employees working together in the presence of a canine co-worker ‘ranked their teammates more highly on measures of trust, team cohesion and intimacy than those who had not.’
  • Encouraging a healthier lifestyle. We all know dogs need regular breaks. Sometimes, we’re not so kind to ourselves though! Sitting at a desk all day isn’t great for us humans. Those canine co-workers can help to get us moving at regular intervals throughout the day. And don’t we feel better for it! 

Can I take my dog to work?

There’s no one-rule-fits-all when it comes to whether your dog can accompany you into the office. 

While one in six (16%) employees are currently allowed to bring their pets into work, 37% of workplaces have no-dog policies in place. Of the two in five pet parents who have broached the subject with their boss, only 16% received a positive result. 

However, it’s worth asking the question. You never know, it may give your employer paws for thought! 

If it’s not possible to have your dog at work with you, you may still be able to join the 45% of pet owners making arrangements to change their working hours so they can spend more time with their furry friend. One in ten owners are even planning to work from home full-time so they don’t need to leave their pet’s side! 

For a sixth of dog owners, their employer won’t accommodate working from home. This might be why a fifth (21%) of dogs will be left at home while their parents head out the front door each morning.

Helping your pet adjust to being home alone

Oli Juste, Itch panelist and dog behaviourist, advises: “Working from home, being furloughed or being without work during the pandemic has meant many people in the UK have become dog owners for the first time. However, as many will be heading back to the office, some dogs are going to have to learn or re-learn how to cope with being left alone.

“Even if your place of work is allowing you to bring your dog in, it’s really important that your dog can also be left alone for periods of time, should you need to leave them. Whether it’s popping to the shops, going to the dentist/doctor, heading out on a date or going to see the latest movie at the cinema, your dog will need to be prepared for these events.”

Here are Oli’s top tips for helping your dog adapt to life post-lockdown:

  1. Leaving your dog alone – Three to four hours is the maximum amount of time dogs should be left on their own during the day. If you leave them for longer, you’ll need someone to take your dog out for a walk, for exercise and mental stimulation. So, find yourself a reputable dog walker who comes well recommended. Some of the best ways to find these are to check with neighbours or local neighbourhood groups online, and make sure you don’t leave it to the last minute.
  2. Taking your dog to the office – If you can take your dog to the office with you, make sure to create some rules so that your colleagues actually look forward to seeing your dog! Create clear boundaries for your dog, as well as your co-workers. It can be a good idea to bring a crate for under your desk. This will give your dog access to a safe place, and a place you can leave them to get rest and take a well-deserved break. Top tip – when it’s lunch time, make sure your dog isn’t going from desk to desk begging for food.
  3. Separation anxiety – You should assume dogs will suffer from separation distress and do your best to help them cope with being alone when they are young. If your dog is going to have to stay alone for a few hours every day (as mentioned in tip number one, this should be three to four hours maximum) make sure they can do it. Have you left them alone before? If so, did you film them? Do you know if they were stressed, anxious, experiencing fear or frustration. Or were they happy, calm or just sleeping? You’ll need to help your dog cope with being left alone, as it doesn’t come naturally to them and you’ll need to get there gradually and sensitively. It’s important to not let your dog ‘cry it out’ but instead, use brain games and puzzles. If it’s still not going well, ask for help – there’s plenty of advice out there!

Cats miss us too, you know!

Dr. Lauren Finka, Itch panelist and cat behaviour & welfare specialist, says “Scientifically, we know a lot less about separation anxiety in cats than we do in dogs. As a species however, domestic cats are probably much less likely to form the same intense emotional attachments to their humans as we often see in dogs.  

“This means that in many cases, our cats might be more likely to appreciate the extra peace and quiet around the home than mourn our absence. However, there are always exceptions to the rule and some cats (especially those that are very people focused or ‘needy’) might find adjusting to a post-lockdown life a little difficult. 

“Additionally, cats tend to be creatures of habit and like to feel in control of their environment. Even for cats that will appreciate us being out of the house more, the abrupt change in our daily routines could be enough to make them feel a little on edge.”

Signs that your cat might be struggling with your return to work or change in routine include:

  • Becoming more vocal, clingy and ‘attention seeking’ or following you around more than normal
  • Or equally, hiding more, becoming ‘withdrawn’ or being less interested in attention 
  • House soiling (e.g. weeing or pooing indoors, outside of the litter tray, perhaps in your bed, on the sofa or near to the main exit from the house)
  • Any changes to their normal routine, eating and grooming themselves more or less than usual
  • Appearing more anxious, on edge or agitated than usual, perhaps particularly before you leave for the day and/or when you return
  • Destructive behaviour when left alone such as scratching or biting objects (other than their toys and scratching posts) or knocking household items over

These behaviours can be caused by things other than separation anxiety, so if your cat has started doing any of the above, we’d definitely recommend discussing with a vet to make sure nothing else is the matter.  

Helping cats with separation anxiety

Fortunately, there are lots of things pet parents can do to help their kitty with separation anxiety or a change in routine.

Here are Lauren’s top tips to help your cat adjust:

  • Encourage independence: Avoid rewarding or praising your cat when they follow you around. Perhaps have set times during the day where you ignore them
  • Give them freedom: Provide them with a safe, enriching outdoor environment and ideally install a (microchip operated) catflap, so that they can come and go as they please rather than rely on you to have to let them in and out
  • Enrich their indoor environment: Provide them with lots of toys that encourage ‘self-play’ (e.g. they don’t need you to operate them), cat climbing frames, put their normal food or treats into puzzle feeders
  • Provide them with calm: Ensure they have a dedicated quiet space within the home where they can do and have ‘alone time’, undisturbed

Thinking of getting a pet?

Getting a new furry family member is an exciting time. However, it’s crucial to plan and be as practical as possible. 

Explore the options around flexible working or home-working arrangements with your employer beforehand to avoid any unpleasant surprises once you’ve welcomed your new pet. If these options aren’t available to any of you dog parents, it’s worth looking into local dog walkers, sitters or doggy daycare services who will be able to keep your pet pleased as punch until you return home! 

As lockdown eases and we get out and about more, we also need to think about parasite protection! This is what Itch Vet Zoe Costigan has to say:

“It is a lot easier to protect your pet against an infestation than to treat one. Therefore owners should consider keeping their pets up to date with a monthly parasite protection routine, such as Itch’s hassle-free subscription. That means they can enjoy all the things we’ve been missing out on over the past year, carefree!”

Sign-up to Itch and get your first month of Itch Flea for free.

1. Consumer research carried out by Attest, consisting of 1000 UK adults that own dogs conducted in May 2021.