The back-to-school blues can hit our furry friends pretty hard. Dogs and cats can feel anxious, lonely and stressed when kids go back to school. Here’s what to look out for and how to prepare.
Has your child gone back to school after the holidays or extended time at home? Then you may have already spotted the signs of the the back-to-school blues, not in the kids but in your furry family companion.
Dogs, puppies and cats who have been enjoying hours on end of playtime, walks and cuddles can feel lonely, upset and anxious when the school holidays wrap up, and often struggle to adjust back into their previous routine. After all, losing all of the affection and attention they were enjoying can feel sudden, upsetting and pretty confusing.
People have reported dogs staying in their child’s room all day or whining if the door is closed. Others report dogs sitting and waiting at the front window for great lengths of time for their friends to come home from school.
It’s no wonder the separation can have such a big impact on our companion animals. A study conducted by the University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Massachusetts found that nearly 20 percent of the United States’ 80 million dogs and puppies suffer from separation anxiety. And it only gets worse when the kids go back to school and the house returns to quiet.
It’s important to talk to your children about your companion animal’s feelings and concerns, especially when you’re noticing the signs of separation anxiety. Here are two things to keep in mind as the school holidays come to an end:
Dogs and cats prefer a routine
Dogs and cats feel the most secure when you wake up, feed them and play with them at the same time every day. Changes to your schedule can cause some stress in pets.
Young children sometimes need reminders
Let them know how important it is for them to give their beloved friend love, care and attention when they are at home. Some fun ways to remind them are by creating a Dog or Cat Care Contract or making a responsibility chart.
What are the signs to look out for?
- Dogs show signs of anxiety by pacing, carrying around an item of your child’s clothing, whining or house soiling
- Cats will meow more frequently, avoid using the litter box, knock more things off the shelves or act aggressively towards other animals in the house
- Both dogs and cats demonstrate separation anxiety with destructive behaviours such as scratching, chewing and excessive barking or meowing.
6 Tips to Ease Back-To-School Anxiety in Pets
1. Work with your child to set up and follow a daily routine
Talk to your child about the importance of maintaining a routine for their companion to keep them feeling secure, and come up with an easy-to-follow schedule. This schedule should include feeding, walks and playtime at approximately the same time every day. Make sure you have enough time to maintain the new schedule.
2. Encourage your child to show more attention
Explain that like humans, other animals feel loneliness and rejection. Encourage your child to spend some extra time with their companion in the first few weeks of school, especially straight after they’ve come home. Encourage them to play a fun game of ‘fetch’ or ‘cat and mouse’ before starting their after-school activities.
3. Have a conversation
Let your child know what’s going on. Children can identify with feelings of loneliness from a very young age, and will usually have no problem understanding the importance of caring for their friend’s emotional wellbeing.
4. Ask your child to keep their friend’s favourite toy
Save a special toy that your dog or cat really enjoys and have your child give it to them just before they are ready to leave for school in the mornings. Put it away once your child has come home so that it remains the “special toy” all year round.
5. Hide treats around the house
Take your child shopping for some of their companion’s favourite treats and when you get home, hide them around the house and backyard. Your friend will love discovering them while you’re away. A popular option is to use are Rubber Kongs stuffed with peanut butter.
6. Make a visit to the vet
If your companion animal’s symptoms are not easing, consider seeing the vet. Sometimes these problems can be related to pain or other health problems. You can also discuss behavioural management strategies with your vet, which both you and your child can implement.
Download your free Dog Care Booklet for Kids
‘Life Hacks for Hounds and Hoo-mans’ is a 13-page colour-in booklet, perfect for canine-crazy kids! The printable booklet outlines important dog care information with helpful illustrations that children can colour in.