How to Help Your Rabbit with Post-Quarantine Separation Anxiety?
by Anne Martin
COVID-19 has brought about drastic lifestyle changes and has left us confined to our homes. With stay-indoors orders reinstated in place, millions of people have been forced to stay back and work from home once again, just like they have been doing for the past many months. Needless to say, we can’t wait to go out and live our lives again.
Fortunately, with multiple vaccines being reported as effective of late, the quarantine orders might be lifted in the near future, and people can resume their regular lives. But the ones who will not take this back-to-normalcy phase well are our pets. It will leave them utterly confused as to why you are not home as often as you used to be.
Like humans, animals suffer from separation anxiety too. Animals get attached to their owner which is why this sudden separation affects them. This anxiety can even drive them to react in unexpected ways. Hence you need a plan that will ease your pets into the change.
Why Do Pets Suffer from Separation Anxiety?
Animals also suffer from mental health issues like anxiety and depression, just like humans. Rabbits especially are quite susceptible to it.
Rabbits are social creatures who love being the center of attention of their pet parents. They can be quite territorial of their owners as well, and it keeps them in a great mood when the humans are around. But the opposite is true as well.
When you suddenly start spending a lot less time at home than before, your rabbits are bound to feel anxious and abandoned. They have to go from being in your company all the time to not seeing you at all throughout the day. The unexpected loneliness can trigger bouts of anxiety in your pet.
Moreover, it is well known that rabbits have weaker hearts than most other animals. They do not fare well under fear, stress, or duress. While the separation anxiety might not be as fatal as a sudden shock to your rabbit, it could still cause health problems like cardiac issues or high blood pressure.
What Are the Signs of Separation Anxiety?
Rabbits with separation anxiety often exhibit distress and behavioral problems. These problems get triggered when they get separated from their owners.
Pets, suffering from anxiety, react in different ways. These are some of the signs your pets may exhibit.
1. Urinating and Defecating
If you see your rabbits urinating and pooping in excess and outside the litter box, then your pet is suffering from separation anxiety. Even toilet-trained rabbits can exhibit this kind of stress behavior.
2. Chewing and Grinding Teeth
Separation anxiety may drive your rabbits to display anomalous chewing behavior. Chewing of toys and furniture are observed as a regular occurrence in rabbits. But separation anxiety can make them more destructive.
You may find that your carpet, clothes, and even your favorite slipper have been chewed off.
The chewed off material can cause digestion issues, being inedible, and can also be toxic for your bunny. They may suffer from diarrhea and vomit uncontrollably.
If they cannot find anything to chew on, they will grind their teeth to compensate. That leads to enamel damage and various tooth problems.
3. Fussing about Food or Overeating
Eating disorders are common in rabbits suffering from anxiety issues. When left alone or separated from their guardian, they may lose their appetite and may turn away from their favorite food items.
In other cases, experts have also noticed signs of excessive eating. This inevitably leads to being overweight and developing obesity.
4. Digging, Destruction, and Hostility
Anxious rabbits dig holes in unusual places. Incessant fighting with companions, hostility towards other house pets, violent and destructive attitude are often big signs of internal stress in rabbits.
Such behavior can be physically harmful as well. It causes injuries like broken nails, cut paws, and broken teeth. Excessive aggression is just your pet reacting to loneliness which drives them to actions that demand attention.
What to Do If Your Pet has Separation Anxiety?
Once you get an idea of how soon you will start going out to work and restart your usual schedule, you should also begin easing your pet into the routine.
It will not be smooth sailing, but it is a necessary step for weaning your rabbit off your presence.
1. Condition your rabbit to get used to being away from you for shorter periods of time. Move to the other room and do not let your rabbit see you for some time. Wait for them to feel the separation and get accustomed. Repeat this a couple of times to desensitize your bunny.
2. Don’t make your exits eventful. Be subtle and refrain from making a big deal when you are leaving. Pets have conditioned reflexes. Habituate them with occasional absences before you are actually going back to work.
3. Keep a feeding and watering bowl ready to go. Rabbits get frisky when they are hungry or thirsty. To prevent them, it is better to keep food and water within their reach.
4. In case of severe anxiety, visit a vet. There are anti-anxiety medicines that can help if behavioral practices do not work with your rabbit.
5. Consider hiring a pet sitter for the initial few days. Attention from a pet sitter will keep your pets occupied. Once they get used to you being away, the anxiety will ease.
6. Keep your pet busy with a host of activities and give them attention when you are at home. This will help make up for the lost time and also help ease their anxiety.
An anxious rabbit will be up to all sorts of mischief to get your attention. All they want is a little love and care from you. And as pet-owners, it is your responsibility to take care of them and help ease their distress.
Separation anxiety is not uncommon in pets which is why vets are medically trained to treat anxiety in patients. With proper attention, you can cure their anxiety.
Anne is Education Director at House Rabbit Society. Her advisory team of rescued rabbits — Tampa Bay and Justice and parrots Deacon and Pi-Pi — help keep her on top of the latest and greatest pet health research, training and products, anything to keep them in the high life they are accustomed to.