When the school year begins, many pets feel abandoned in their newly empty homes and may suffer from separation anxiety. Take a break from school supply lists to review a list from Loving Family Animal Hospital outlining five ways to ensure a stress-free school year for your pet. 

#1: Give your pet a head start with a gradual schedule change

Make the first day less shocking by slowly changing your pet’s schedule several weeks in advance. If your pet’s meal times or exercise time will be altered, make those adjustments during this period. Gradually spend more time away from home, or separate your children and pet during the day, so your pet learns the family will return. If your pet is accustomed to all-day company, start with only a few hours at a time and look for separation anxiety signs, including:

  • Vocalizing
  • Destructive behavior
  • Excessive panting or pacing
  • House soiling

Separation anxiety most commonly affects dogs, but cats can also exhibit depressed or anxious behavior. Separation anxiety must be addressed quickly to prevent it from worsening. If your pet shows separation anxiety signs, contact your veterinarian for recommendations on how to address them. 

A consistent schedule is key to minimizing pet stress and anxiety. Once you have established your household’s new routine, try not to allow too much variation.

#2: Check your home and yard to ensure your pet’s safety

Bored pets can get in a lot of trouble, and that trouble could bring them to a veterinary hospital. If your pet will not be confined to a crate or pen while the family is away, check their area thoroughly for potential hazards. 

  • Inside the home — Look for any toxic items your pet could chew on or ingest, including:
    • Toxic house plants, especially lilies, which are deadly to cats
    • Medications 
    • Small toys 
    • Food or candy
    • Home improvement supplies, such as paint and spackle, which are toxic when ingested 
    • Open windows, which pets may fall from or climb out 
  • Around the yard — Pets who witness their family leaving may panic and try to follow them. Secure their area by:
    • Limiting access — Supervise your pet outdoors.
    • Checking the fence — Look for gaps, holes, or loose panels.
    • Closing gates — Ensure your pet cannot escape to roam the neighborhood alone all day.
    • Eliminating yard hazards Mulch, compost, and lawn treatments can be toxic.

If your pet uses a doggy door, consider locking it for the first few days you will be away for added peace of mind.

#3: Provide your pet with predictable exercise

Exercise reduces stress, anxiety, and destructive behavior. If you are too busy to give your pet consistent, appropriate exercise, consider hiring a dog walking service or a pet sitter. Lonely pets will enjoy the social interaction and the chance to get outside and stretch their legs.

Doggy day care is a great opportunity for dogs who enjoy socializing with other canines. Visit facilities in advance and give your dog a trial run to determine if they enjoy it before committing to a membership.

Time-consuming toys such as food-filled Kongs or treat mats can give your pet something to do while you are away. Licking is a soothing action for pets and may reduce stress. Always observe your pet with the toy before leaving them unsupervised to ensure proper use. 

#4: Keep backpacks and lunch boxes away from pets to prevent toxin emergencies

A busy schedule may mean an increased risk of toxin exposure for your pet. According to the ASPCA Pet Poison Center, a spike in pet toxicity occurs during the back-to-school season. Backpacks and lunch boxes, which may be tossed aside at the end of a busy school day, are the most common place pets find hazards, which can include:

  • Raisins
  • Grapes 
  • Xylitol, which can be found in sugar-free snacks and gum
  • Chocolate
  • Avocado
  • Medications, such as ADD and ADHD medication, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and inhalers

Small toys, string or yarn, and school supplies can be mistaken for toys, and can lead to gastrointestinal obstructions for dogs and cats. Obstructions can be life-threatening and require surgery. Teach your children to put away their lunch boxes and backpacks after returning home, and store medications away from pets. Ideally, remove snacks toxic to pets from your child’s menu.

#5: Schedule a back-to-school physical for your pet

Before long, your schedule will be overbooked with appointments, field trips, and after-school activities. If your pet is due for health services this fall, book an appointment early to avoid forgetting or delaying important preventive care.

In addition to providing them with annual services, having your pet examined before the new school year is a great opportunity to:

  • Get refills on heartworm, flea, and tick preventives
  • Schedule any procedures, including spay, neuter, or dental cleanings
  • Discuss strategies for separation anxiety, and whether medication would help your pet

Dogs and cats are most content when their family is nearby. Social relationships provide pets with reassurance, confidence, and improved health. Unfortunately, everyday life and school require you and your children to leave your home, and pets must learn how to cope. Help your pet learn what to expect by providing controlled changes, and protect their overall health by providing a safe environment and excellent preventive care. For additional questions about separation anxiety, or to schedule your pet’s examination, contact Loving Family Animal Hospital.