Back-To-School Blues…for Pets (How to Prepare Your Kids)
Yep, it’s a real thing. And you may have already spotted the signs.
Dogs, puppies and cats who have been enjoying constant playtime during the holiday period can get lonely, upset and even anxious when their best friends disappear for the new school year.
The back-to-school blues can hit our animal companions pretty hard. The holiday period is often a blissful time of long walks, double the cuddles and awesome bonding time–and losing it somewhat suddenly can be confusing and worrying for them.
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.
Last year, many dogs who had school-aged buddies reportedly stayed in the child’s room and whined if the door was closed. Some dogs also waited at the front window, waiting for great lengths of time for their friends to come home.
It’s important to talk to your kids about the feelings and concerns of your companion animals, especially when you’re noticing the signs of separation anxiety.
Things to remember
- Dogs and cats live by routines. 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 stress.
- Talk to your kids. Let them know how important it is for them to give their beloved friend love, care and attention. Some fun ways to remind them are by signing a Dog Care Contract or acknowledging their commitment with a responsibility award.
What are the signs to look out for?
- Dogs show signs of anxiety by pacing, carrying around an article of your child’s clothing, whining or even house soiling.
- Cats will meow more frequently, avoid using the litter box, knock more things off of the shelves or act aggressively towards other pets.
- Both dogs and cats demonstrate separation anxiety with destructive behaviours such as scratching, chewing and excessive barking or meowing.
So what how do I prepare the kids?
- Work with your child to set 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. The schedule should include feeding, walks and playtime at approximately the same time every day. Always make sure there’s plenty of time to maintain your schedule.
- 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 furry family member 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.
- 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 companion’s emotional wellbeing.
- Ask your child to keep their companion’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.
- 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 dog will love discovering them while you’re away. A popular option to use are Rubber Kongs stuffed with a little bit of peanut butter.
- 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. Good luck!