Back to School: Pet Edition
It is that time of the year again: back to school! Say goodbye to sunshine and chlorine soaked suits and hello to pens, paper, and projects. As a parent, I am looking forward to a little quiet around the house and enjoying time with my 6 month old while my older two are at school. But I can tell you, as a veterinarian, I see many dogs and cats who are not so thrilled. A family’s schedule change from school to summer and back again can affect our fur babies more than we know. I have seen cats urinating on backpacks and dogs chewing up textbooks, so I thought I would start the month of August off with some tips to help your fur babies adjust to the school year.
Changes in routine can create anxiety in our pets. A great way to help all family members adjust is to mimic a school year schedule in the month of August. Set alarms in the morning and divide responsibilities for the pet(s) – this way your fur kid’s breakfast doesn’t get forgotten in the hectic morning rush. Try your best to keep meals and exercise at similar times each day. If you have a dog that is going to be in a crate for more time than he/she is used to, practice this by placing them in their crate for small increments of time and working up to a full school day.
Many pets get a ton of exercise during the summer. The summer weather is favorable for being outdoors and families enjoy bringing their pets hiking in the mountains, swimming in the ocean, and/or strolling city streets and dining al fresco. When the school year begins, often our pets exercise routine falls to the bottom of our never-ending to-do list. Be intentional about scheduling walks or runs for your dog. Try setting your alarm for 15-30 minutes earlier to fit in a dog walk before the rush of the morning begins. Walks or runs when the children come home from school gives your pet something to look forward to. If before and after school are not an option, consider a dog walker or doggy daycare. Using an app like Wag! or Rover, you can find a qualified pet sitter to help your pet stay fit!
It is likely your home will be a much quieter place without the kids around, and shockingly this can cause anxiety in animals. My dog and cats love the peace and quiet, but many do not. For the latter, I recommend leaving the television on to provide the sound of human voices. If leaving the TV on isn’t helping, your pet may benefit from playing slow relaxing classical music while everyone is away - and actually playing classical music while everyone gets ready in the morning can help all family members start the day off right!
4. Environmental enrichment
I love the idea of rewarding your pet – positive reinforcement can work wonders! A simple way to do this is to give a chew toy (ex: a Kong filled with peanut butter and frozen overnight) when everyone leaves the home. This gives your pet an immediate positive association with you leaving the house. New toys or scratching posts are good ideas for cats. Maybe even a cozy window seat with a bird feeder view.
I love using pheromones to help ease anxiety in all of my pets. Feliway diffusers, for cats, last about 1 month and you can start them a day or two before school. Adaptil diffusers and collars are helpful for dogs and like the Feliway, can be started just 1-2 days before the big change!
Back to school is a big change for everyone. Please do not forget how this can affect your dog or cat. Try implementing some of the suggestions above to make the transition easier on everyone!
– Leigh Hofmeister, DVM