How to Prepare Your Cat for Returning to Work
After a long stretch of many cat owners working from home and spending a lot more time at home in general, we are finally beginning to return to the office, go back to school, and even go on vacation again! This may or may not be exciting for you, but it can definitely be stressful for your cat.
Cats thrive on routine and predictability, so any major change will certainly throw them off and create stress. If you are faced with the reality of having to return to work and be away from your cats for longer periods than they have gotten used to, there are a few steps you can take to make the change easier on everyone involved.
Do a Practice Run
If you know you need to return to work in two weeks, spend those two weeks practicing and preparing. Gradually build up the amount of time you leave. One day, go outside and take a 10-minute walk around the neighborhood. The next day, run to the store for 30 minutes. Have dinner with a friend for an hour, then go see a 2 or 3 hour-long movie. Because you are leaving for longer and longer each time, you are building up your cat’s tolerance and teaching him that even though you may be gone for a while, you’ll always come back. By the time you leave for a full day, he’ll be an expert in solo time.
Create a Predictable Routine
Cats thrive on routine and love having a schedule. If you don’t believe me, ask your cat when it’s time to eat! I bet he knows. For some time now, you’ve had one routine: You wake up around the same time, go to your home office, eat dinner around the same time, and go to bed. But you may not be thinking about how your cat is involved in that routine. His schedule may include spending time “helping” you work. Maybe you started feeding him lunch now that you’ve been home during the day. Your cat will have to create his own new routine without you. To the best of your ability, be predictable. Leaving and returning home at the same time each day will help your cat adjust, and so will feeding him, playing with him, and going to bed around the same time each day as well. He will be able to find comfort in knowing the pet patterns of what comes next and when.
Up the Enrichment
Right now, your cat is spending lots of quality time with you, hanging out and getting attention during the day. But when you’re gone, then what? He may get bored and lonely waiting for you to get home. It’s not appropriate in all situations, but if it’s something you've been considering, it may be a good idea to get your cat a kitty friend to keep him company when you’re away. You could also consider hiring a drop-in pet sitter to come spend an hour or so with him during the day to give him the play and attention he is missing out on.
If neither of those ideas are options for you, take a look instead at what enrichment and entertainment options you are offering for your cat. Life within four walls can be very boring! After spending a few days locked inside your house, you probably start to get cabin fever. So does your cat, so it’s your job to keep his life interesting and exciting. Daily play sessions are crucial, of course, but those aren’t possible when you’re away. Consider leaving fun cat toys to play with while you’re gone.
You can also come up with entertaining activities such as hiding treats around the house for him to find, putting out food puzzles, filling up a cardboard box with ping pong balls, giving him cat grass, or turning on the nature channel for him to watch on TV!
Make the Most of Time Together
Because you and your cat will no longer be spending as much time together, that means that you have to focus on making the time you do have together count! Play time and quality time should be part of your pet's routine and daily schedule. You may want to just relax on the couch after working all day, but your cat was home alone and probably spent a lot of the day sleeping.
Of course, now that you’re home, he’s desperate for your attention and full of energy! Adding a play session right before you leave and when you get home can make a difference in handling his energy level and mean that he’s ready to settle down and keep you company while you watch TV. Put yourself in your cat’s situation and try to understand how he is feeling, even if it just seems like he is just being annoying.
Falling into a new routine can be a difficult adjustment for not just you, but your cat, too. If going back to work, fighting traffic, dealing with coworkers, and having to change out of your pajamas is stressful to you, remember that your cat likely feels very similarly. Be patient, try to understand your pet’s behavior, and focus on reducing stress for both of you! Good luck in your transition!