Help your dog beat the 'back-to-school' blues

Back-to-school season (whether primary, high school or tertiary education) is a time of transition for the whole family, as parents and students alike adjust to a new routine.

But it’s also a difficult time for pets, who have grown accustomed to extra attention in the summer holiday.

It’s not an uncommon problem. After all, cats and dogs are vulnerable to any change in their schedules or surroundings, and they tend to thrive on stimulation. With nothing to do, pets need to find ways to entertain themselves – which may present as excessive meowing or barking, gnawing on shoes, eating houseplants or scratching the furniture.

If your family pet is picking up any of these unwanted habits, it may be a sign that they’re having a hard time adjusting to a new schedule.

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Signs of separation anxiety

If you notice any of the following behaviours in your pets occurring consistently and only in your absence, it may be separation anxiety.

  • Barking, whining and crying: Barking is usually rhythmic or in repetitive internals. You might notice that the quality of the bark or vocalisation is higher in pitch and associated with distress.
  • Chewing on boxes, windows or jumping the fence: These may all be behavioural signs of attempting to get to their owners.
  • Urination (as marketing or squatting): Defecation is also common and can be quite loose, indicating stress. Check with your local vet to rule out any medical condition causing inappropriate elimination.
  • Drooling, shaking or pacing: When escape from home is not possible, dogs will sometimes show these behaviours as a terminal point of panic.

Is your pooch at risk? 

  • Your pooch is overly attached to you at home. He may bark or become distressed when you close a door.
  • Though appearing to be in a sound sleep, he’ll rise to follow you room from room.
  • Loss of a significant canine companion: If you’ve recently lost a fellow dog or a human family member has left home, this can put more stress on your dog.

What can I do to help my dog or cat? 

  • Provide them with enrichment: Give your pets things to do with their mouth and bodies. Practice each day with these solitary strategies. That way, you’ll find they don’t depend on you to feel OK and develop some coping strategies.
  • Give your dog access to important social areas when you’re out. Typically, escape attempts are related to trying to reach you – or your scent.
  • Practice leaving for a little bit when you are home. This way it’ll stay part of their daily life to have no access to you.
  • Give your pooch a treat every time you leave the house to help them develop positive feelings about being alone. You could stuff a rubber toy with food to provide stimulation.
  • Consider taking your dog for a long way in the morning or engaging with them in a game of fetch before you leave. With cats, you can multi-task while you enjoy a cup of coffee and play with a laser toy or feathery wand in the other hand.
  • Move your cat’s tree to a position near a window so puss has a view of the garden or street and can watch everything going by.
  • Encourage your kids to play with the pets when they get home from school. Why not introduce an after school treat so this becomes something your cat or dog looks forward to?

If you think your pet is already suffering from separation anxiety, reach out for professional help and get your pet feeling better. Keep a watch on their symptoms, and if they get worse or simply don’t improve, take them to your local veterinarian to rule out any medical conditions that might be causing the symptoms.