By Mara Tarnoff Sixth Grader Published Feb 28, 2021 at 11:23 AM

OnMilwaukee's second generation is school age now, ranging from newborn to college. Occasionally, some of these kids will contribute their thoughts to the site that is older than they are. This article was written by 12-year-old Mara, who is the daughter of publisher Andy Tarnoff.

Over the last year, your pets have loved being around you just as much as you’ve loved their company. But, while it will be hard for you to go back to work and to school, it will be harder for them.

Dogs, and even some cats, will suffer from separation anxiety.

According to Dr. Becky Banks from Dr. Noah’s Ark Veterinary Clinic (and “9 questions my 7-year-old asked our vet” in 2015), pets who already had separation anxiety before the pandemic will continue to have it.

“Even pets that did not have separation anxiety have adjusted to this new norm of having their people home all day, and having a very altered schedule,” says Banks. “So even as people have started to return to work, we're already seeing some of that separation anxiety.”

Anne Reed, the president and CEO of the Wisconsin Humane Society, says pet owners have never experienced anything like this before. 

“It will probably be different for different pets in different families. It’s likely that some people might keep working at home at least some of the time; in those families, pets will probably continue to spend a lot of time with family members. And some pets are comfortable alone for periods of time, and might welcome a little more solitude when their family members go back to work and school.”

Banks says the common symptom of separation anxiety in dogs is barking. In cats, it’s urination issues. 

Says Banks, “I think it's mostly whining and barking. Panting is a very common stress response, where they just sit and pant at the door. Sometimes, stress in dogs presents itself with diarrhea, or you could see stool or having accidents. And I think the other thing frequently we'll see is destructive behaviors. If they're not somewhere safely crated, they might get into things, like the garbage or tear things apart.”

According to the Humane Society’s website, your dog may howl or dig or take extreme measures to try and escape their environment. They may show signs like dilated pupils, excessive drooling, and/or sweaty paw pads.

Says Reed, “But we do expect that for some pets, the transition to having family members away more often will be stressful, so it will be smart for families to prepare for this and help their pets as much as they can.”

Princess Pom Pom
Princess Pom Pom is probably ready for some personal space.

Cats, dogs and even bunnies will all cope differently. Dogs will be the most affected, and cats like solitude, so all animals will react in different ways.

“Sometimes in cats, interestingly enough, it's the opposite,” says Banks. “They actually have become more agitated with their families home all day. Not all of them, but it's an adjustment, and cats really like routine. But actually, I've been actually noticing a little bit of the opposite: When people go back to work, those cats that are very tied to their owners will probably have some issues. With bunnies, I would say most of the more exotic and companion animals are not having as many issues. I think that just because their interaction is a little bit more limited with their people.”  

“It really depends on the individual animal but in general, separation anxiety symptoms are most often seen in dogs,” says Reed.

But for an older cat, like Jabie, she enjoys the company.

But don’t worry fellow pet lovers, there is a solution to this:

“There's a lot of really useful behavior people around, and I have some of my own favorites in town that I usually refer people to, because I think the first step is working with behavioral modification,” says Banks. "When all else fails and we've exhausted those possibilities, then we have drugs. But then we still combine that. The important thing is, you can't just say, ‘This drug's going to drug your dog and fix it.’ You combine that with behavioral modification. Sometimes you won't even need the drugs.”

Reed says, “If a pet seems to be in serious distress that isn’t getting better, the family should check with their veterinarian, since there are medications that are helpful for some animals.”