We all love spending time with our pets, but many have been at our sides almost constantly for close to five months, as New Jerseyans working from home and limiting their outside trips during the COVID-19 pandemic have few places to go.

But when workers start to be able to return to their physical offices, furry friends may feel left behind, even if being alone in the house all day was the reality for their entire lives prior to mid-March.

Separation anxiety is real and tangible for pets, according to Dr. Adam Christman, chief veterinary officer of Fetch DVM360 and treasurer of the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association.

Christman said vet visits have actually increased during the pandemic, as owners have noticed more things wrong with their pets the more time they've spent together. But the flip side of that is that some pets are now getting more exercise than they ever did before.

"If that deteriorates, that's how they can either get into trouble, or just have incredible anxiety to the point where they may not eat," Christman said, suggesting that owners consider hiring a pet-sitter or walker when they go back to work, to maintain that new standard of physical activity.

Other options include "doggy daycare" — the anxiety is more pronounced in dogs than cats, Christman said — or even medication, with the approval of your veterinarian.

Christman further suggests owners find excuses to get out of the house for increasingly longer periods, so that pets can acclimate to isolation gradually, rather than all at once.

"You're trying to desensitize them as they get used to whatever the new normal schedule will be," he said.

And once you do return to the office? Major signs of pet anxiety to watch out for, aside from not eating, include trying to chew on furniture or escape from a crate ... or worse.

"The big thing is self-destruction, so if they're self-mutilating, whether they're actually licking themselves, they could be licking their arms, licking their knees," Christman said, "they're basically having a temper tantrum and saying, listen, this isn't cool. I don't like the fact that you're gone, and I need you now."

The good news, according to Christman, is that things as simple as leaving the radio (or a radio app) on during the day, playing special music or TV programming, or investing in smart toys controlled by phone apps can help your companion cope.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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