Back to school time can be exciting and fun for the kids, but not so much for the four-legged family members who are left behind. After spending the summer enjoying the warm weather and having fun with the kids, our pets have to adjust to being left alone inside. Dogs and cats crave routine, so transitioning back to the school-time routine can be difficult for them. It is not uncommon for pets to experience separation anxiety when they find themselves alone and away from the people they are attached to even though this transition happens at this time every school year.
Pets with separation anxiety often appear distressed as the family prepares to leave the home, and become overly-enthusiastic upon your return. Some signs that your dog or cat may be experiencing separation anxiety include the following behaviors when left alone:
- Urinating or defecating in inappropriate places.
- Destructive behavior such as digging and chewing, especially at doors or windows.
- Vocalization including barking, howling, and whining in dogs or excessive meowing in cats.
If the separation anxiety is not severe, here are some ways you can help your dog or cat cope:
- Start out with short periods of separation to get your dog or cat accustomed to being home alone before the start of the school year.
- Try exercising your dog or cat before you leave the house by taking your dog for a walk or playing with your cat. A tired pet is more relaxed and less likely to get into trouble when you’re gone.
- Make your departure and return to the house low-key so you don’t reinforce your pet’s anxiety about the event.
- Provide interactive toys or toys stuffed with food to keep your dog or cat occupied during your absence. If you give a food-stuffed toy as you’re leaving, it can distract your pet as you’re walking out the door. Additionally, it will train your four-legged friend to associate your leaving with good things. Put these toys away when you’re home so they remain a special treat.
- Some pets find an article of worn clothing with your scent on it comforting.
- Try leaving on the TV, some music, or a DVD made specifically for dogs or cats.
In most cases, your dog or cat’s symptoms will lessen after he or she becomes accustomed to the new family routine. If your pet’s separation anxiety is more serious, consult with an animal behaviorist, trainer or your veterinarian for advice.