They’ve been inseparable all summer long. Each time the kids leaped off the dock into the lake, the dog wasn’t far behind. When your kids built spaceships out of old moving boxes, the cat was the first to take a ride. And if your child read a mystery book by flashlight at night, your pet was curled by her side.
Soon, everything will be different. The kids will race out the door each morning without a backward glance. The hours will tick by slowly, and no amount of watching the squirrels or birds out the window will provide a satisfying way to pass the time for the family dog or cat.
Creatures of habit
Most pets like to have a routine, and when there’s a drastic change in their day, it can be unsettling. In extreme cases, some pets can experience separation anxiety, because they’re not used to being suddenly all alone. Now’s the time to plan to make sure your pet makes a smooth transition. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
A longer morning walk. Are you walking the kids to the bus? Why not bring the dog to send them on their way? Then take your pup on an extra 30- to 60-minute walk for some good one-on-one time with you. It’ll help your pet expend that pent up energy and might get your own heart pumping, too.
Doggie day care or dog walkers. If you have to head to the office and your dog will be alone all day, treat your pet to all-day play with other pups. Or hire a dog walker to stop by in the middle of the day to give your pet some exercise. Then both your kids and your dog will be tired and ready for some cuddle time when they get home.
Play dates. If you are home during the day, see if a neighborhood dog your pup likes can come over and play for an hour or two.
Try technology. While you’re at work, keep tabs on your tabby with a video camera that enables you to talk to your pet and even dispense treats. You can also try an activity monitor that attaches to your pet’s collar so you can see if he or she is really snoozing all day. If they are, that’s your cue to make sure you or the kids take your dog for a walk before dinner.
Low-tech works, too. Check out food puzzles that encourage your pet to work for their food. These puzzles help challenge your pet’s mind and physical dexterity, and periodically dispense kibble to keep your pet interested. Just make sure to deduct the amount of kibble in the puzzle from your pet’s regular meal amount, or feed your pet’s entire meal using the puzzle.
Or find some new toys that captivate your pet. If you’re not going to be home to supervise your pet, only leave toys that can’t be accidentally chewed and swallowed.
Teach your pet a new trick. Many pets like to be challenged and rewarded for their efforts (yes, even cats can be trained). Throughout the day, hold 5-minute training sessions with your pet and give them praise or treats for a job well done.
Help your pet adjust gradually. Pets with separation anxiety may become stressed when left alone and can spend the time barking, scratching the couch and destroying other property. Help prepare these pets for time alone by changing the departure cues.
For the weeks before school starts, ask your kids to put on their shoes and grab their backpacks, but don’t go out the door. Gradually, have them leave, but return after a short period of time. When the kids depart, have them give your pet a treat so it associates something positive with their departure. A stuffed Kong can be a great distraction that will keep your pet busy and less focused on being alone.
If it’s too late to prepare your pet and it’s already showing signs of separation anxiety, work with your veterinarian to find ways to soothe your pet’s stress level. With a little planning, both your kids and your pet can start the school year off on a positive note.
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.