Summer is winding down, and the kids—most of them—are excited about heading back to school. Unfortunately for your pet, they are among those less than thrilled about the new school year. The many changes that come with the new school year can be hard on pets, who may develop separation anxiety when they suddenly find themselves home alone. Our team at Harbor Pines Veterinary Center lists five common mistakes that you should avoid when preparing your pet to transition smoothly to the back-to-school routine.
Mistake #1: Suddenly springing the new routine on your pet
A new school year means a new schedule and new routines for the whole family—including your pet. Think now about how your pet’s daily routine will change, and start implementing those changes slowly to give them plenty of time to adjust. Start setting the alarm for your children’s school wake-up time, adjust your pet’s mealtimes and bathroom breaks to reflect their new schedule, and increase your pet’s alone time during the day. By making changes now, you can monitor how well they are adapting.
Mistake #2: Assuming your pet will be fine home alone all day
Don’t simply assume your pet will be happy at home alone, especially if you have never left them for long periods before. And, pets who have happily spent time home alone in the past will need time to adjust after the summer, because they have become used to spending a lot of time with you and the family. When your family heads out for school and work and your pet suddenly finds that they are all alone in a quiet house, the lack of noise, stimulation, and companionship may be hard for them to accept.
To help your pet, start leaving the house, slowly increasing the time you are gone. The first time, simply walk out the door, wait a few minutes, and then go back inside, checking your pet for signs that they are distressed. You might want to consider installing a camera inside your home to see how your pet is handling your absence. Are they barking excessively, crying, or scratching at the door? If so, how long do these behaviors last? If your pet is exhibiting these common separation anxiety signs, they may need behavioral training or medication, depending on the severity.
Mistake #3: Skipping your pet’s daily walks
Exercise is important not only to your pet’s health and wellbeing, but also has the added benefit of tiring them out, and a tired pet will feel much calmer and is far less likely to be destructive while home alone. Set up an exercise routine for your pet that fits into the new family schedule, ensuring your pet gets at least 30 minutes of activity each day. If possible, walk your pet in the morning to help them stay calm when you leave, and again in the afternoon. If you do not have time to squeeze in walking your pet, consider hiring a dog walker or taking your pet to doggy daycare. Adequate exercise and stimulation is vital for your pet, no matter how busy your family gets.
Mistake #4: Making a fuss over leaving your pet
Do you feel overwhelmed with guilt at the thought of leaving your pet for the day? If so, try to keep your feelings to yourself. If you shower your pet with treats, pets, and profuse apologies for leaving, your pet will pick up on your distress and mirror your anxiety. Instead, calmly head out without making a big deal about saying goodbye. If you keep your emotions in check, your pet likely will calmly accept your exit. Similarly when you return home, avoid excited greetings the second you walk through the door and greet them only when they are calm.
Mistake #5: Leaving your pet with nothing to do
A bored pet will find ways to entertain themselves during the day—and you may not like what they do. Suddenly the couch pillows become stuffed toys, the cat gets dragged into a game of chase, and the trash can becomes a treasure chest that must be explored. To avoid coming home to a complete mess, leave your pet with plenty of appropriate toys that will keep them entertained. Keep your dog busy with interactive toys or treats, such as a Kong filled with frozen peanut butter or kibble “hidden” for them to find. Don’t forget about the cat—sprinkle catnip on their favorite toy, or hide a few “prey” treats for them to hunt.
Be patient with your pet as they adjust to the back-to-school routine, and ensure you or other family members spend quality time with them every day. If your pet is struggling with the new routine, our team at Harbor Pines Veterinary Center can help with their separation anxiety. Contact us to schedule an appointment to discuss how we can alleviate your pet’s stress.