Days spent wading in the pool, digging in the sand, and roasting marshmallows are slowly coming to an end, and are soon to be replaced by days spent sitting in the classroom learning some new lessons. It’s back to school season! To your surprise, you might not be the only one kicking and screaming at the thought of returning. Your pet may be, too.
Back to school blues are a very real thing for companion animals. Afterall, they’ve had a whole summer to get used to around the clock attention and endless cuddles, walks, grooming, etc! Such a transition can cause your pet separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is very common, and having to adjust to you or your child’s sudden absence from the house can be a definite trigger. Feeling anxious can take form in destructive behaviors, which can include your pet excessively vocalizing, whining, whimpering, growling, inappropriately urinating, digging, biting, or chewing everything in sight. This will only add to some of the back to school stress you may already be feeling, and you certainly don’t want your dog or cat to feel that way either.
When transitioning back into the school year, keep in mind these factors to make it more tolerable for your pet:
Create a Routine
The routine is sure to be different one way or another once school is back in session. It’s important that you don’t spring the changes on your pet, as this is more likely to trigger separation anxiety. Instead, gradually introduce the changes to them before school officially starts. This includes any new times for walks, feeding, bedtime, using the bathroom, having to be woken up, etc.
The days that you or your child are off to school, be sure not to make it a big spectacle when leaving the house. While you may want to smother your pet in hugs and kisses to keep them satisfied for the long school day, they’ll be able to read into the emotion of this prolonged goodbye. It will likely create more anxiety and stress in your pet. The proper way to say goodbye to ensure you don’t scare your pet or make them wonder what the reason is for such a heartfelt, lengthy departure is to keep it brief and simple. Play with them a few minutes before you step foot out the house so that a simple pat on the head, pet, and “Bye!” will suffice.
Keep Them Busy
A few hours of you being out of the house can put your pet into a state of boredom or anxiety. If there aren’t any other people in the house that can help combat this problem and keep your companion company, leave them with the tools to entertain themselves. Toys will be your pet’s best friend once the academic year starts. Give them plenty of balls, ropes, stuffed animals, chews, and especially puzzle toys. Puzzle toys in particular will do an excellent job of keeping your dog or cat busy, as they provide both physical and mental stimulation. It’s a great way to keep them focused on something for a long time while simultaneously sharpening their skills. The options for toys and puzzles you provide your canine or feline are endless. It’s for this exact reason that you should take the time to choose the correct ones. Not only should you be taking the time to find one that they’ll thoroughly enjoy, but also one that you can trust they’ll be safe with. Don’t leave them with toys, treats, or chews that they may potentially ingest, break apart, or somehow hurt themselves with. That rule goes for any other hidden pet dangers in the house - do a quick sweep of all areas your pet has access to and make sure anything toxic or dangerous is out of paw’s reach.
Toys can certainly do a good job of entertaining your pet, but nothing beats true connection and socialization. Look into finding a trusted place that can provide your pet with day care services, agility classes, or training classes. Or perhaps find a trustworthy fellow pet parent that can help organize puppy or kitty play dates while you or your child is at school. This way, you can be sure your companion is not getting lonely or feeling isolated.
Maintain a Bond
School is undoubtedly a hectic, busy time for most students. Between studying, doing homework, and trying to find a minute to breathe, it can be difficult to find time for anything else. But maintaining a bond and connection to your pet should still be a priority. Make sure you aren’t neglecting your pet or only doing the bare minimum to let them know how much you love and appreciate them. Try to find a groove and schedule for when you can take the time to really give them the attention they deserve. Then give more when you get the chance!