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Helping Pets Stay Stress Free Post-COVID

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Emily Woodbury
With more people working from home, dogs and cats suddenly find their owners home most of the time. Dr. Debra Horwitz, a veterinary behaviorist, says it's normal for pets to develop new habits from the change in routine.
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Rachel Lippmann
For Rachel Lippmann's dog April, work-from-home means more chances to demand snuggles.

With many people working from home and staying put on weekends, dogs and cats are spending more time with their humans than ever before. And sometimes it can be, well, a lot.

“My cat interrupts my telehealth therapy session over zoom every. single. time,” O’d Ali lamented in a post on St. Louis on the Air’s Facebook page.

Amanda Price chimed in: “My Shepherd-Husky mix has always had bad separation anxiety, so this time has been amazing for him.”

When Dr. Debra Horwitz, a pet behaviorist and veterinarian, hears these stories, she is quick to question whether separation anxiety is truly a concern. On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, she said that, as humans, we are often hypersensitive to our pet’s needs.

“Dogs come up to us because we’re the source of information, right? They don’t make decisions; we make decisions for them. When we’re not home, they make decisions, and you’d be surprised to learn that when you’re not home, most of the time your pet sleeps,” Horwitz said.

“But now that you’re home — especially if you’ve been taking them for frequent walks or you go, ‘What do you want? What do you want?’ — all they are looking for is information. And sometimes, that information can simply be, ‘OK, go to your bed.’”

For animals prone to anxiety — that demonstrate symptoms of separation anxiety such as destroying items, barking all day or urinating inside — she shared several tips to mitigate separation anxiety now, before things get “back to normal” post-pandemic.

Horwitz advised taking small departures from the house.

“They don’t need to know that you went to the park without them, but get in your car, drive away, go to the park, take a walk, come back home, and if it’s only 20 minutes or a half-hour, the dogs are getting use to [you] going out and coming back, and that’s really important if your dogs do or do not have separation anxiety,” she said.

“When it’s time for you to go back to work, they’re not going to be prepared unless you’ve done some things like leaving and coming back, maybe staying away a little bit longer — just so they get used to being alone again.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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