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Veterinarian Wayne Hunthausen: How To Prevent Loneliness In Pets

Tommy Lew

Throughout the 20th Century our perception and treatment of cats and dogs changed from that of working animal to treasured companion. We brought them inside and made them members of our family. As society changed, however, those animals went from the constant stimulation from and occupation with the outdoor environment to that provided by stay-at-home mothers and children to often being home alone for eight hours or more every weekday.

Pets can be lonely and that loneliness can manifest itself in conduct that can be harmful to the pet and to your home. In a conversation with Up to Date host Steve Kraske, veterinarian and animal behaviorist Wayne Hunthausen offered these tips to reduce the effects of loneliness in dogs and cats:

For dogs:

  • Aerobic exercise twice per day such as 45 minutes of power walking.
  • Use short, frequent departures to accustom your dog to you being away. Leave the dog with a treat-stuffed toy, exit the room for a short time and then return. This reinforces the fact that although you may leave, you will always return.
  • For dogs that become anxious at the first sign that you're leaving (putting on make-up, getting lunch packed, etc.) give it a favorite toy before you begin that particular activity.

For cats the trick is a stimulant-rich environment:

  • various perches throughout the home
  • cardboard boxes or paper bags they can explore
  • interactive toys: items with catnip or a treat concealed within
  • create a scavenger hunt before departing by placing toys concealing treats inside at various and different locations in the house

For longer separations such as vacations, Dr. Hunthausen says, "Slowly prepare it to be by itself. Stop giving it attention all the time on demand. Practice these little short departures and longer departures . . . This is assuming it's going to stay in the home and you've got somebody you can trust that can come over at least a couple of times a day and check on the pet."   The best solution Hunthausen says may be to "board the pet while you're gone. That way it's going to be in a situation where it's supervised throughout the day, it's not likely to get into trouble, you don't have to worry about other issues that could come up with a pet just by itself almost 24 hours a day. And in that case it's also good to prepare for that . . . several weeks or more before the pet's boarded, drop it off for day boarding just to kind of test it and see how well it does."

When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
As senior producer of Up To Date, I want our listeners to hear familiar and new voices that shine light on the issues and challenges facing the myriad communities KCUR serves, and to expose our audiences to the wonderful and the creative in the Kansas City area. Just as important to me is an obligation to mentor the next generation of producers to ensure that the important conversations continue. Reach me at alexanderdk@kcur.org.