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Can you juggle being a pet parent and a nurse?

Owning a furry friend doesn’t seem that daunting until you become a nurse. Just like you, those 12-hour shifts can really stress out your pup (Your cat probably doesn’t care).

It may seem like having a pet isn’t a wise idea unless you have someone else at home who can spend some quality time and make sure there are no accidents on the rug when you return. Still, during COVID, pet adoptions rose over 30%, with most pet parents choosing to adopt, not shop.

Early research shows this may have been a good idea even if you weren’t furloughed as a nurse. Over 93% of new pet parents said their mental health was better despite the pandemic due to having an adoring friend. Still, the same study noted that many pet parents were concerned with what to do with their pets once everyone in the house went back to work. 

In fact, shelters are starting to see record numbers of surrendered pets due to destructive behaviors, costs, and families who no longer have the time to spend with Fido. After all, that cute puppy purchased a year ago has entered the terrible toddler dog years, happily announced by the chewing of shoes or pulling on the leash.

How to keep your pet happy while you work. 

With that in mind, there are a few things you can do to help keep your pets happy and busy during your long shifts. The first is to invest in some training. They say old dogs can’t learn new tricks, but it turns out dogs of all ages thrive once they know what is expected of them. If you don’t quite have the heart to discipline your buddy, invest in a good trainer who can help you understand what to do, when to do it, and why it’s helping your pup.

Another option is doggie daycare. Here your dog gets to spend the days with other pups, often in a physically active environment. Be warned, though. If you have a lazy pooch or one that doesn’t play well with others, you may want to skip this option. If your dog wouldn’t like the dog park, doggie daycare is likely to create negative energy instead of burning it off.

For those more low-key dogs or in homes with multiple animals, a dog walker is a great way to keep your dog active and happy. The company Rover can help you connect with local dog walkers but don’t discount the teenager down the street or the guy still working from home next door. A little exercise and a breath of fresh air may do everyone some good.

If those options are too expensive (doggie daycare is often 25 dollars a day or more, and a good dog walker can add up too), consider a dog door. If you don’t have a fenced-in yard or have been told by your less-than-happy neighbors that your dog barks at squirrels all day, consider a room in your house where the dog can eat, sleep, and possibly use the bathroom.

It may feel like you hold your bladder for the whole 12 hours you are at work, but your dog can’t always do the same. According to Cesar Milan, small dogs especially may need to urinate more frequently. All dogs should get a bathroom trip at least 3-5 times a day. Obviously, the bigger the dog, the bigger the *ahem* problem. So while a mat like this one may do the trick for a smaller dog, big dogs may need some access to the great outdoors.

If you are afraid your furry friend isn’t getting enough interaction, there is some cool technology out there to help you stay connected. For example, the Furbo dog camera lets you see and talk to your pupper and even dole out treats from the nurse’s station. Honestly, that’s so much better than the standard turkey sandwich. There are also interactive toys and puzzle games your dog can play. Just be careful. Dogs who play with unmonitored toys may get themselves in dangerous situations. 

Finally, if your adoring pet turns into the Tasmanian devil while you are gone, you may want to consider crate training. Giving a dog a den can help them feel safe and less anxious while you are gone and will prevent expensive damage to your house while you’re hard at work. Twelve hours is a long time to be in a crate, so try to limit your shifts or get a dog sitter. 

Cats are a good choice for nurses too!

If you are considering a pet purchase, cats are a little easier for a busy nurse to handle, but your furry friend likely won’t wag their tail on your return. Your feline may not even notice you’re back but is much less likely to be stressed out by your absence. A good clean litterbox and freshwater are all you need to have a cuddle buddy after a few 12-hour shifts. 

Rather you have cats, dogs, or any other friend, the love is worth it. Your pet doesn’t need you to save lives every day as the humans do. They just need you to love them when you get back and will likely give you even more love in return. Try a few of these tricks to see what works for you. How do you help your pets cope? Tell us in the comments what works for you. Happy tails!

Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN

Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN


Amanda is an ER nurse with 10 years of healthcare experience. She currently works as a nurse educator and as an adjunct professor for several schools. She also works as a freelance healthcare writer in her spare time. Amanda thinks the greatest thing about nursing is the endless possibilities and opportunities to learn. What have you learned today?


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