It’s that time of year again: The air is getting a bit crisper, pencils and notebooks are on sale in every office supply store, and you might be counting down the days until school is back in session. While you might have been anticipating some anxiety and upset on the part of your children as their summertime winds down to an end, what you might not have expected is that your pets can also suffer from first-day-of-school anxiety. No, they’re not concerned about getting a mean teacher or not having anyone to sit with in the cafeteria, but their routines are going to change, and this can cause some behavioral issues. Read on to find out how to reduce pet anxiety for your four-legged friends as the kids head back to school.
One of the main reasons for pet anxiety is due to the change in routine. Are your children currently sleeping in until 8:00 or 9:00 am (or, if they’re teenagers, until noon)? Many kids get a later start to their days in the summer, and so do some stay-at-home parents. This means that Fluffy and Fido also get up later, having snoozed away the hours directly following the sunrise. The evenings are also going to change: Rather than eating late dinners and letting the kids play well into the nighttime hours, chances are good that in your house, dinners will be a bit earlier and bedtime will take place a few hours later. This means that your pet is also expected to wind down earlier than they have been the past few months. One way to reduce pet anxiety caused by a change in routine is to switch things up slowly, if possible. If school starts after Labor Day in your area, you still have some weeks to work on gradually waking up and going to bed earlier until you hit your target times. As a bonus, this will also help your kids acclimate to the changes and you’ll have less painful wake-ups once school starts!
If your pet has been accustomed to having the family (or at least the children) home most of the day, the long hours from the time the bus picks up the children until the time that it drops them back off again can be boring for your pet. Most cats will choose to sleep this time away, but some will scratch the furniture, over groom, or walk around meowing. Dogs can cause more problems: They might whine or bark and disturb the neighbors, lick or chew their fur to the point of creating sores, chew on shoes and other objects that they find around the house, and try to dig holes in the furniture. Nip this in the bud by giving your pet something fun to do while you’re all away from the house.
- Pick up some new catnip-infused toys for your cat (avoiding anything with strings that they can choke on). Puzzle toys are also fun for cats who enjoy them.
- For dogs, you can fill a Kong or another treat-dispensing toy with canned dog food, peanut butter, or a variety of other soft, moist treats. Freeze them overnight for a bigger challenge. A few new chew toys will help your dog stay busy, too.
You can also leave a radio or television on to provide some company for your pet. There are even two-way cameras available that will allow you to check in on your furry family member and speak a few soothing words to them if they seem agitated. Finally, when you or the kids get home, be sure to reward the pets with a nice long play session or walk.
Picking Up on Stress
If your family is feeling stressed out about the start of school, your pet will pick up on it. This can cause anxiety that leads to negative behaviors. It will really help if you can ease your own mind and reduce stress for your children because your cat or dog will sense a calm environment and will tend to stay worry free. Some ways to reduce stress in adults and children alike include getting regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and learning about some relaxation techniques. Just a few minutes of deep breathing, yoga, or meditation can lower your stress levels by several notches. Also, make time to do something you enjoy even though you are busy. Family dinners are often a great time of day to de-stress and bond. Trying these methods can help you feel better, which, in turn, will help your pet feel better. Keeping your pets anxiety free when the routines and schedules change in your family can be a challenge, but it can be done. Go slowly and spend some extra time snuggling and playing with your pets to help them feel reassured. If your dog or cat is experiencing severe anxiety or it doesn’t pass within a couple of weeks, contact your veterinarian to find out whether treatment is recommended. In some cases, medication, pheromone sprays, and other methods are used to help reduce pet anxiety during stressful times.