With the arrival of fall, it is time for youngsters to go back to school. They stuff their new backpacks and eagerly set off to meet new teachers and see old friends. Some pets take the change from summer activities to a school year schedule in stride and patiently wait for the children to come home each afternoon.
Unfortunately, the transition from summer time to the school year leaves some pets confused, lonely, and bored. It isn't unusual for the temperament of a dog or cat to change when the household routine is altered. Back to school blues may result in depression and/or separation anxiety for your furry friend.
According to John Ciribassi, DVM, past president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, the symptoms of depression in a dog are very similar to those seen in humans. Dogs may become listless, withdrawn and inactive. They may lose interest in play and other favorite activities. A depressed pup often changes in his eating and sleeping habits.
Common symptoms of separation anxiety are quite different from depression. Dr. Nick Dodman of Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine reports that nearly 20 percent of the county's 80 million dogs have separation anxiety. About 70 percent of the pups suffering from separation anxiety bark, howl, or whine while 60 percent damage or destroy household items. About a third of the upset pups have house-training accidents.
There are a few things you can do to ease your pet's distress. Your schedule must change but bring consistency into your pup's life by setting new morning and evening routines. A brief walk before school and another when the kids get home gives your dog quality time that he will enjoy and expect.
Make the kids' departure a happy time for your pet. The ASPCA recommends giving your dog or cat a treat every time you leave the house to help him develop positive feelings about being alone. Let your dog go along if you walk the children to the bus stop or take him as a passenger if you drive the kids to school. Make your pup feel part of the new routine.
Pets sleep a lot of their day away but do need something to occupy their time when awake. Interactive toys can help in this regard. A Kong stuffed with peanut butter or cream cheese will keep a dog busy for quite a while. Freeze the Kong before giving it to your dog and make the fun last even longer.
There are also many odd-shaped puzzle toys that release a treat when a pup manipulates them properly. These toys offer a dog a different type of challenge, because he has to work and think to get a treat. Stimulating toys for cats are also available.
Ward off back-to-school blues by supporting your pet's transition to quieter autumn days. Establish a new schedule and make departure time a fun activity. Schedule regular walks. Have several different interactive toys and trade them out daily or weekly to keep individual playtime interesting and exciting. Don't let your pet get down in the dumps.
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With a Ph.D. in Biological sciences from the University of Texas in Austin and a masters in Zoology from Southern Illinois University, Dr. Sue is devoted to the care and massaging of pets. Read her articles here.