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Are You Leaving Your Pet Home Alone Too Long?

Don't let guilt cloud your pet parenting journey! Discover the optimal amount of time to spend at home with your pet and unlock a happier, stress-free relationship.

Young woman cuddling Jack Russel Terrier

Pets are a beloved part of many families across the world. Whether you have a dog, cat, rabbit, fish, hamster or other small creature living in your home, they’re bound to bring you joy and companionship.

Research by the PDSA shows that 94% of pet owners say that their soulful sidekick makes them happy, with 84% claiming their pet improves their mental health.

But while you may love to have your pet with you all the time, it’s often not possible or practical to be together 24/7. Work, school, errands, and socializing can all get in the way of that 1:1 quality time, which means that your pet will need to get used to some solo time every so often. But how long is acceptable, and how can you help your pet feel comfortable being home on their own?

The proof is in the pet

When it comes to answering these questions, you may find that it hugely depends on the type of pet that you have, as well as how old they are. For example, a cat or dog that can go in and out via a pet door will be able to be left for a lot longer than a pet with no outdoor access.

Similarly, an older dog may be able to be left a lot longer than a puppy who needs to use the loo every few hours. To ensure you’re not gone for too long, many vets advise that both kittens and puppies can be left alone for about an hour for every month they’ve been alive, plus one hour.

Very general guidance for dogs suggests that they shouldn’t be left alone for longer than four hours per day, as they’ll need to relieve themselves and can benefit from some fresh air. This is especially true if you keep them crated or confined to a room vs giving them free run of the house. However, if your pet is destructive, you may need to keep their access limited and check in more frequently.

Working pet parents

On the flip side, many working pet parents have perfectly happy pets who they have to leave all day while they’re at the office. While not ideal, most adult pets with no health issues can tolerate up to 8 hours alone. If you’ll be gone for longer than that, you may want to consider a dog walker or doggy daycare to help mitigate all that alone time.

Dogs are social animals by nature and they will crave human interaction, becoming bored and lonely when left for long periods.

In contrast, many adult cats will be perfectly happy being left alone for 8 hours to a day or two, provided that you leave them food, water, toys, and a cozy place to sleep.

If you’re going to be gone for longer than a day or two, you should consider hiring a pet sitter to check in on your cat. Even though they may seem introverted, our feline friends need love and affection, too!

Practice makes perfect

Part of getting your pet acclimated to being on their own is to slowly increase your time apart. Suddenly leaving them for several hours may cause them stress and anxiety and build into a long-term problem.

If you're working with a new pet, it’s best to get your new pet settled into the home for a week or two, and then start leaving them for 15-minute increments until you’re confident that they’re happy.

Pay attention to their behavior when you return – they’ll be happy to see you, but if they are overly excited, or seem reluctant to be away from you for the rest of the day, you may need to go back a step and build up their confidence more.

Handling separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is where your pet feels worried about being away from you, and as a result, is nervous when left alone. They may vocalize (barking, whining, excessive meowing), destroy household items, or use the toilet in the house when you leave them. It’s important to understand that that is genuine distress – they’re not just being naughty to spite you.

If you’re seeing any of these behaviors in your pet, or they struggle being left alone, speak to your vet or a behaviorist for help. Don’t assume that your animal companion will just get used to being left alone – by forcing them, you’re only amplifying their distress.

We’re our pet’s whole world. We owe it to them to make our time apart as tolerable as possible.

Pacify before you part

Helping your pet remain calm when you're not around is vital. Here are some tried and true pet parent tips to consider before you head out for the night:

  1. Establish a Routine: Maintain a consistent schedule for feeding, bathroom breaks, and playtime. This predictability can be reassuring for your pet.

  2. Interactive Toys: Provide toys that stimulate their minds and keep them occupied, especially toys that they can interact with to get treats.

  3. Comfortable Space: Create a comfortable, quiet space where they can retreat, including a

    cozy bed and their favorite items.

  4. Relaxation Techniques: Learn relaxation techniques like gentle petting or massages and use them before you leave.

  5. Background Sounds: Leave on some soothing background sounds, like a soft playlist or a

    TV channel designed for pets. This can be especially helpful for reactive pets who may become distressed at the sound of people in the hallway or other dogs barking.

  6. Exercise: Ensure they get plenty of exercise before you leave, as a tired pet is less likely to be anxious. Save that dog jog or catnip playtime sesh till an hour or two before you leave.

  7. Avoid Fuss: Avoid making a big fuss when you leave or return home to prevent anxiety from building up around these moments.

  8. Safe Treats: Leave safe, chewable treats that can keep them occupied for a while.

Remember, the primary aim is to create a calm, safe, and stimulating environment that keeps their mind occupied and reduces anxiety during your absence.

Consider the time commitment before getting a pet

The idea of having a pet is wonderful, and for many people, they are a great addition to the home. However, it’s important to fully understand the implications of getting a pet before you commit.

You’ll need to spend a fair amount of time at home, or get a regular pet sitter or someone to check in during the day, all of which come at an extra cost. Understanding this before you go ahead and add your new copilot to the family will help you be a kinder, more responsible pet owner.

Lizz Caputo is the Manager of Content Strategy at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.

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