FIFO life with pets: How to manage it

Labrador puppy

You've landed your dream FIFO gig, but what about the fur babies?

You’ve just landed your dream FIFO gig and you couldn’t be happier. There’s just one problem — who looks after your dog/cat/goldfish when you’re away for the long haul? And is it fair to your fur babies to be constantly separated from their owner?

We spoke to Perth veterinarian Dr Kate Lindsay, an animal behaviour specialist and owner of Kalmpets, who has these tips:

When you're FIFO what are your pet options?

Safety and routine are important to every family member — furry or otherwise. Establishing a daily routine that continues for your pet regardless of where you are is essential to easing the worry that goes along with unpredictability.

Use your network of friends and family to give your pets the familiarity they need. In the absence of this network, kenneling is sometimes an option. However, for some dogs this can be lonely and confusing and lead to the development of behavioural problems, such as separation anxiety. 

How do animals cope with being in a kennel?

Some pets, like some humans, are more robust than others. For the more sensitive pets, kenneling can be worrying — especially since the average dog has the intelligence of a toddler. This means they have no ability to understand:

  • Why they are in kennels 
  • Where their human has gone, and
  • When their human will be back. (Some kennels will go above and beyond to alleviate this worry.) 

Is it fair on pets to work FIFO; can it work?

All relationships are tested with FIFO. Pets know who is part of their family unit and form strong, lifelong bonds with those individuals. Pets miss you and use their whole bodies to show their love in exuberant greeting behaviours on your return. FIFO can work for pets provided the day-to-day routine is as predictable as possible, regardless of whether you’re home or away.  

What happens if an owner is away too often?

The common behavioural problems that can result from the unpredictable routine of FIFO are social problems and separation anxiety. 

Should I keep my pet if I’m working FIFO?

Ask yourself who will maintain the animal’s routine while you are away. How resilient is your pet? And how bonded is your pet to other family members? 

No pet enjoys separation from their loved ones because they have no idea where you are and when you’re coming home. Dogs, for example, live from moment to moment; you’re either with them or not. Making sure every moment counts and that they feel safe is essential.

If you have a sensitive pet that already struggles with separation from you, then they are unlikely to cope with kennelling regularly and for long periods. However, if you have a robust pet they can usually adjust and cope well in a well-managed kennel. 

Can long-term FIFO work lead to pet abandonment issues?

Yes, every separation gets more challenging as your pet tries harder and harder to identify all the predictors of your impending departure and engages in more and more desperate attempts to prevent being away from you. Remember they don’t know where you are going or why; all they know is that you are with them or without them and that being away from you is frightening. 

How can you get your pet used to you being away?

Start the daily routine before you are scheduled to start work away and ensure the routine is maintained. This means mealtime, playtime, walks and cuddle time all happen at roughly the same time each day. Ensure that your pet has opportunities each day to exercise both their bodies and their brains. A healthy brain is the best way to protect your pet from developing behavioural problems. If your pet does develop behavioural problems, address them as soon as possible to ensure you maximise success of treatment plans. 

For more information on selecting kennels and on animal behavioural issues, contact Dr Kate.

Beverly Ligman
Mining People International