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Prepare your pets for post-lockdown life, says USPCA

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The USPCA is urging pet owners to plan ahead to ensure their pets do not suffer from separation anxiety once we return to work (Nick Ansell/PA)

The USPCA is urging pet owners to plan ahead to ensure their pets do not suffer from separation anxiety once we return to work (Nick Ansell/PA)

PA

The USPCA is urging pet owners to plan ahead to ensure their pets do not suffer from separation anxiety once we return to work (Nick Ansell/PA)

A Northern Ireland animal charity has said that pet owners must prepare their animals for life after lockdown.

The warning comes as people begin making their way back into the world of work and regular life, as restrictions start to ease.

As a result, there are growing concerns among animal welfare groups that pets may struggle with the new situation.

The USPCA is urging pet owners to plan ahead to ensure their pets do not suffer from separation anxiety once we return to work in the coming months.

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For those with pets at home, the easing of lockdown could mean a significant change for our animals who have got rather used to having their owners around more.

The USPCA said that when the time comes, and pet owners resume their busy schedules, our much-loved pets may struggle to cope with being separated from their owners for long periods of time and may display unwanted behaviour.

USPCA chief executive Brendan Mullen said: “Pets greatly enrich our lives and it is clear that they have been a real lifeline for many owners during lockdown, however it is vital that these same owners take heed of the implications lockdown has had on their companion animal.”

He continued: “Now is the time to consider how you can help your pet adapt to your absence and mitigate any behaviours which may manifest from anxiety such as barking, howling and destructive tendencies.

“We also strongly advise owners to reflect on how they can integrate their pet’s care, such as feeding, walking, grooming and cleaning, into their pre-lockdown routines and to have plans in place.”

The USPCA has also said, that within the last year many young pets have been welcomed to households during lockdown and will not be familiar with normal routines and may struggle more than older pets.

There are increasing fears that behaviours caused as a result of separation anxiety may lead to pets being left unwanted and potentially abandoned.

Mr Mullen stated: “Very often unwanted behaviours, not having the time, inadequate research into the needs of specific animals or breeds, are all scenarios which may result in a pet being abandoned.

“Our colleagues in the SSPCA (in Scotland) are already experiencing surges of unwanted animals. We are concerned that this may be the case in the months to come so it is important to plan ahead and prepare your pet for life at home alone.”

Dr Gareth Arnott, a senior lecturer for Biological Sciences at QUB and PhD student Nicole Pfaller-Sadovsky said: “Separation anxiety is the umbrella term for a number of behaviours that dogs display when they are separated from their owners. These separation-related behaviours typically start within the first few minutes of the owners’ departure.

“They include panting (without being hot), repetitive walking up and down (i.e., pacing), salivation (without food being around), vocalizations (from whining to barking), urinating inside when typically trained not to do so, destruction of door frames, window frames and other furniture.”

Asked about fears of abandonment over separation anxiety, they said that: “Research has shown that problem behaviours are one of the most common reasons for surrendering a dog to a shelter, including separation-related issues (e.g. destructiveness).”

“Given that this has been problematic even before the pandemic, the rise in dog owning during the pandemic may lead to an increase in dogs being abandoned based on their unwanted behaviours. Additionally, due to the lockdown there could be problem behaviours in dogs associated with a lack of appropriate socialisation, including overly reactive and aggressive behaviour.”

Tips for preparing pets for a change in routine

  • Train your dog to handle your absence by beginning with short intervals and then working your way up to longer periods of time;
  • Owners can occasionally expose their pets to very briefs periods of separation, by having the owner leave the home for short durations of time (30 seconds or one minute);
  • When returning to the home you should only aim to the greet the pet after they have settled down — generally avoid overly excited greetings;
  • Encourage your dog to embrace ‘down time’ and to rest during the times you would normally be out at work;
  • Understand how you will be able to accommodate your pet’s care routine into your work and social schedule without compromising on their exercise and playtime;
  • Invest in enrichment toys which stimulate your pet and provide them with entertainment;
  • If the pet has already developed a separation-related issue, the owners should get help from an animal training professional and never punish the dog for inappropriate behaviour.

To find out more about the work that the USPCA does, visit their website: https://www.uspca.co.uk


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