Your dog or cat has spent more time with the kids in the last year than ever before. More time licking up the trail of cookie crumbs behind your child. More time rolling in the fresh-cut grass. More time curled up, fur to skin. In fact, if your pet entered your household during the pandemic, it might not know life without your family around 24/7.
To help prevent your pet from feeling the angst of separation after the school bus leaves, we’ve compiled a back-to-school list for your pets. But like every school checklist, you want to work on it early, so your pet can gradually adjust to the new school year.
- Establish a routine. Dogs and cats are creatures of habit who are comforted by the predictable. They like their meals served at the same time every day. If your kids will rise earlier for school, start a few weeks before school starts and set the alarm a few minutes earlier each day to help your pet get used to the new schedule. Make sure to plan for one-on-one play time with your pet each day.
- Make exercise a priority. A tired pet is more likely to nap than mope or stress around the house all day. Make a point to walk your dog each day before the kids leave to help work off excess energy. If you have a cat, take 15 minutes each morning before school to play chase-the-laser-dot or another interactive game.
- Give your pet alone time. If your pet currently goes everywhere with you or your kids, start leaving your dog or cat home alone for small amounts of time each day. Go for a short walk or run a quick errand on your own, then gradually increase the amount of time you and the kids are away from your pet. If you return to signs of pet distress, such as urinary accidents, destructive chewing or neighbor complaints of nonstop barking, start with even shorter separation periods, such as just going out the door, counting to 10, then returning.
- Avoid the sounds of silence. After a summer of full-time commotion in the household, quiet can be unsettling for pets. Try leaving a radio on with soothing music, or a white-noise machine to eliminate distracting outdoor noises.
- Provide entertainment. Pets can become destructive when left alone simply because they’re bored. Now’s the time to stock up on pet-safe toys (never leave your pet alone with any toy that can potentially be chewed into pieces and swallowed). Fill a Kong with something tasty, such as peanut butter, cottage cheese or chicken baby food and place it in the freezer so it’s ready to keep your dog busy when the kids go out the door. Or leave interactive food puzzles to challenge your pet’s mind and body.
- Plant a camera. If you’re away during the day, consider using a video camera to keep tabs on your pet. Some products even enable you to talk with your pet and dispense a treat. Watch for signs of stress in dogs, including panting, pacing or destructive behavior. Cats may appear restless, vocalize, stop eating, have accidents outside the box or over groom themselves. If your pet seems anxious, consult your veterinarian.
- Employ pheromones. During nursing, the mother dog or cat releases pheromones, which have a calming effect. Synthetic versions of these, in plug-in diffusers, sprays or collars, are available at pet stores or online. They might help give pets a recess from anxiety while the kids are at school.
- Plan for companionship. If your dog will be alone for long stretches of time, look into having a dog walker stop by your house. Or check out the nearby doggy day cares where he or she can play with other pets.
- Seek help. If your pet is truly distressed when left alone, consult your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist. They can suggest the right behavioral therapy, and possibly medications, to help soothe your pet’s anxieties and make them more comfortable at home.
The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.