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How to entertain your pets while working from home

One of the few benefits of self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic is having more time to spend with our beloved pets. For those of us working from home, this can mean being together almost 24/7, which is a huge change to our lifestyle...and to theirs. Having our pets with us reduces stress levels during these uncertain times, and provides company and that crucial sense of connection, making quarantine so much easier to bear.

While our pets may be loving the extra attention, it’s important to remember that changes to routine can be stressful for animals, just as they are for us. To make sure working from home is suitable for everyone, we need to keep our pets safely entertained and continue their normal routines as much as possible – this will help them adjust when we return to our usual occupations.

Check your workspace for dangers

The first step is to check that your workspace is free from any dangers to your pet. Home offices can present a range of hazards, including electrical leads, heavy monitors that can tip over, wastepaper bins and loose items such as paperclips- so it’s best to conduct a ‘pet home office health and safety inspection’.

Lunchtime walks

Something we all love about working from home is the spare time gained from not having to commute, and our pets love this, too! There’s no excuse to skip their regular exercise, which is essential for their health (and yours) and sets them up to feel more settled throughout the day. For dogs, regular exercise should include their usual walk (preferably two) and possibly also a game such as tug-of-war or fetch. For cats, it may mean an interactive activity such as hide-and-seek or time with their wand toys.

Keeping your pet occupied

Once you clock on to work, your pet will need ways to occupy themselves alone until it’s time for a break. This is important for your peace of mind so you can concentrate without interruption and not have any unexpected ‘visitations’ during work meetings! It also provides your pet with mental stimulation and will help them to cope with more time alone when you leave the house.

Continue using any enrichment activities your dog or cat already enjoys when you go out, but also be creative. COVID-19 has forced us to think of new ways to keep our pets happily occupied, so this is a great opportunity to add to the repertoire! For dogs this might be things like puzzle feeders, Kong toys (stuffed with small treats or frozen food to keep them busy), a Snuffle Mat (with food hidden in it to encourage foraging), dental chews (to encourage natural behaviour and improve oral health) and safe toys for cuddling or chewing are all great examples and can keep pets busy for hours.

Cats should already have a scratching post and somewhere high to sit (such as a cat tree), but they also enjoy interactive games – try looking online for games that involve spinning balls they can push around, or even introduce a simple cardboard box if they enjoy hiding. Just make sure whatever you give your pets is free from string, sharp items or small parts that can be eaten, and preferably rotate toys to prevent boredom. Be careful not to overdo the treats!

The benefits of interactive play

Now for the real fun! What better way to spend your work breaks than through interactive play with your pet? Not only is this entertaining and fun, but it also strengthens your bond and is good for both of your wellbeing. There’s no substitute for this quality time, and the options are endless.

Apart from traditional games for dogs such as tug-of-war with rope toys or fetching the ball or Frisbee, there are many simple activities you can enjoy together at minimal cost. Why not try some search games that involve your dog finding food you have hidden, the ‘shell game’ (where you place a treat under one of three plastic cups and shift them around for your dog to identify which cup has the reward), or hide-and-seek.

You can also teach your dog to find their toys by name; this is a great time to update and extend basic training. Some families are even getting extra home help by teaching dogs to help put their toys away! And don’t overlook teaching them a new trick, such as shaking hands or rolling over – definitely something your work colleagues will appreciate.

For feline friends, try out a spot of home fishing or mouse catching by using wiggle toys that encourage their chase instinct (under supervision only, to avoid accidents with string), or ball games. For something more sophisticated, check out online resources for building a home agility course or using clicker training.

Other ways to bond and relax with your pet

And when you’re both needing some downtime, cuddles, grooming or even a massage are great ways to bond with your pet and relax but take care to find a balance between together time and alone time. Pets need their own quiet space to rest. Making this part of the daily routine and having breaks between interactive play to encourage self-entertainment, will help reduce distress when life returns to normal, particularly for pets who already experience separation anxiety.

Working from home with pets is a source of comfort for owners during COVID-19 restrictions. If you follow our fun tips for how to entertain your pet during this period, you should both find that much-needed balance between work and rest. Consult your veterinarian for advice if you have any concerns about behaviour changes in your pet either when you work from home or during the transition back to your usual routine

Even though you’re at home more, it’s still important to consider having cover in place for eligible vet bills. Having RSPCA Pet Insurance can give you peace of mind with four different levels of cover to choose from.

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.