Back to School Stress In Pets

By: Dr. Sally Foote, this article originally appeared in Behavior Bytes

Both dogs and cats live by routines. They feel the most secure and happy when you wake up at the same time every day, feed them at the same time daily, and keep walks or play time on schedule. When the schedule changes, it can cause some stress in our pets. Our pets know when school is starting and may act up at this time of year. Back packs, folders, binders, kids getting up early and leaving on school buses are all big signals that school is back in session.

Signs of Anxiety In Pets

Some dogs show signs of anxiety - pacing, carrying around an article of clothing, whining, or even house soiling. This is a form of separation anxiety. Cats may meow more, avoid using the litter box, knock more things off of the shelves or have more spats with other house cats. You can't keep everyone home, so how do we help these pets?

First of all, maintain the feeding time, play time, exercise routines for your pets as school is starting up. Don’t let the business of life cause you to skip walks, play times or vary the feeding time. Routines are the basis for all anxiety management for both dogs and cats.

Secondly - tell your veterinarian about what you see. Sometimes there can be pain problems, or other health problems behind the anxiety signs as well. Summer is an active time and active could mean injuries. You may not have noticed how hard it was for your dog to move around. Now, it hurts for your dog to avoid the busy areas as everyone is rushing to get off to school, hence the dog’s anxiety increases. Anxiety can cause loose stools or increased urination but there may be diabetes, or early liver and kidney disease lurking there too. Do not wait. Make an appointment for an exam and discuss any anxiety problems as well. They could well be the result of the same issue.

At Home Solutions For Anxiety

If your pet is digging, house soiling, drooling excessively, or refusing to do the things it loves, it is highly anxious. This pet needs two things; good things happening around all the signs that one is leaving and medication or supplements to help the brain stay calm. In veterinary medicine, we use medication to facilitate learning. A dog who is so upset it cannot stop pacing needs medication to break through the behavior so they can focus on a food puzzle while you’re gone. Then, they make a positive connection, learning your absence is nothing to be anxious about. Medications are not permanently given. Often pets taper down or are weaned off, as separation anxiety reduces.

Watch for the signs of anxiety in your dog or cat and what is happening at that time. Is this the day you are in your work clothes? Then offer food treats as you dress. Is it the travel mug you use for work? If so, leave that out and toss food whenever your pet sees it. These are triggers for the separation anxiety.  If there are a number of things upsetting your dog, hide the worst ones as you counter–condition against the milder ones. Too many triggers always present is a leading reason the training is not working. Consult with a veterinarian who has additional training in behavior to help determine the product and specific behavior plan that would help your pet the most.

If Their Special Person Is Leaving

If your child is college bound, you may be seeing some separation anxiety in your pet. Keep up the routines and discuss any “depression” your pet is feeling. Some of our pets are older, and a decrease in appetite or interest in play can accelerate a health problem that was brewing. Sometimes a visit to the college by your pet is a boost for them and your child.

A mother made a cardbord cutout of their family dog, Jesse, for her son to take to college with him.