As Covid restrictions ease in our area and around the country, you may find yourself preparing to step back into your office either half time or full time. After what might be more than a year of working from home beside your dog or cat, this change may feel abrupt and challenging for both of you – especially for your pet.

Your pet has likely grown accustomed to having you around, and if you adopted a pet during the last year, they simply may not have ever spent much time away from you. To help your pet adjust and prevent separation anxiety, you’ll want to start slowly. Prepare your pet by taking steps now, adjusting your routines to suit your new schedule and even consider hiring a pet sitter or seeking veterinary support along the way.

Weeks before you return to your office or school schedule, start slowly transitioning both you and your pets to your new schedule. Begin waking up earlier, and adjust their feeding and walking schedule accordingly. Be sure to feed and walk at the same time every day, so that their internal clocks adapt to the changes.

Try to remain calm and keep life as normal as possible. If you find yourself becoming excessively stressed about the change, seek out support. Be aware that the more you exhibit signs of stress in your home, the more likely your pets will pick up on it. Think about this change as a positive one for both you and your pet, and take each new day as an opportunity to adapt and learn together.

Give your pet plenty of exercise each day to help them move and burn off excess energy. This will likely help you both to relax and find calm during the transition. Take your dog for longer walks or to the park to throw the ball. Give cats extra play time with the laser pointer or wand.

Practice leaving your pets alone in increments. Start slowly, and leave for just 2-3 hours at a time to start. Begin easing into 4-5 hours, working up to 6-7 and finally 8-9. The goal is for your pet to sense normalcy in your leaving on that first day back to the office. Take time to go slow, and you’ll be able to recognize signs of distress earlier and take steps to help your pet.

Give your pets a safe space to find calm at home. Some dog owners may want to crate train. Others may want to gate off a specific area with your pet’s basic needs and favorite toys, bedding and comfort items. Make this area a comforting place for them to turn to on days when you’ll be away for long periods of time.

Finally, don’t be afraid to seek support and watch for signs of separation anxiety. If you find that your pet is pacing, panting excessively, barking, howling, becoming destructive or clinging, contact your vet. It may be worth sending him to doggy daycare, hiring a dog walker or working with an animal behaviorist to help you both during this change. Your dog or cat may need more time to adjust than you realized, and that’s okay. Eventually, with the help you need, you’ll find a happy, new routine for you both.