Pets can face separation anxiety as students return to school, parents return to work, expert says

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Many people picked up a pet during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pets provide company and comfort, but now, many people are headed back to work, and kids are off to school or summer camp, so pets are having to learn a new way of life.

Dr. Crista Coppola, an animal behaviorist and separation anxiety expert for PetSmart, said it can be stressful for pets as people return to normal lives from COVID-19.

In order to help pets overcome separation anxiety, people should build in gradual absences by going to the grocery store, going to the park or taking a walk without a pet, Dr. Coppola said. This helps pets to gradually get used to being alone, and they are not going directly from being with owners all the time to owners going to an eight-hour work day.

Dr. Coppola also said it is important not to punish pets for their behavior due to separation anxiety. This can only add to their stress.

"The thing to understand with separation anxiety is that it's an emotional response, so the pet is struggling to deal with the distress that they're experiencing, so we want to make sure we're not adding punishment to the equation because punishment will only add to their stress and anxiety, and of course, the goal is to reduce their anxiety," Dr. Coppola said. "Punishment is more likely to make the behavior worse and not make it any better."
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