Easing the Back to School Transition for Your Pet

Let’s face it. Changes to our routines are simply at odds with our pets’ preferences. Cats and dogs are creatures of habit. They like their feeding and sleeping kept on a regular routine.

We all know that’s not how life operates — particularly when the children are in school 50 percent of the year. While it might not have occurred to you to think of the impact to your pet, you’ve likely been preparing others in the household for the return of the kids back to the classroom.  Keep your pet in mind as you work on transitioning everyone back into the school year routine.

Depending on your pet’s disposition, the consequences of not preparing ahead of time can range from mild to serious. Strong bonds develop during the summer, when the children are around to play with, pet or snuggle your dog or cat.  Abrupt changes to who is in the house and when, will disrupt the routine your pets come to know over the summer months.

If your pet has become accustomed to a full house on a daily basis, separation anxiety can become more apparent as the family routine changes.

For some pets, back-to-school may just mean less exercise and less attention on a daily basis. Anxious dogs or cats may exhibit behaviors such as inappropriate litter habits; tearing up paper, pillows or furniture; constant barking, mewing or whining.

Some pets might exhibit more serious symptoms: refusal to eat for several days, or refusing to come out from hiding places. In those instances, you should consult with your veterinarian.

Tips for Transitioning

Consider gradually reducing the amount of time your children spend with your pets a few weeks before the start of the school year.  Here are a few more helpful ideas to consider:
  • Coming and going: Don’t make a big deal about leaving the house or, for that matter, returning. Make departures and arrivals a low-key affair. Don’t get your pets worked up, and don’t make them emotional moments.
  • Exercise early: Consider getting your pets up earlier for a walk, a run, a game of fetch or a string-chasing session. They need the exercise and the earlier exertion might mitigate their unwanted behaviors later.
  • Encourage alone time: Provide “puzzle toys” that dispense treats when they’re manipulated the right way (available online or at most pet stores).
  • Leave some comfort behind: Create special bedding for your dog or cat. Leave behind an article of clothing or a special blanket that has your scent on it. Your pet may find it comforting.
  • Field trips: Your kids love it when they get a chance to leave the classroom for a field trip. How about an outing for your pet to a four-legged friend’s house? Visit a dog park or doggy daycare center. Or hire a dog-walker to come by on a regular schedule.
  • Multimedia: Some experts say it’s not a bad idea to leave on the television or some soothing music when you leave the house. Your dog CAN actually see what’s happening on modern televisions and the sounds may keep Fido or Fluffy calm.
  • Create new routines: Maybe you started the early morning exercise routine. How about an after-school routine that keeps your children involved and maintains the relationship they developed during the long summer months? Make sure they’re back to feed and water your pet at the same time. Encourage them to have after-school playtime, or some time before bed, with your dog or cat.
Experts agree: Don’t punish your pet for acting up when left alone for extended periods. Provide guidance, support and training.

Tips to Take Away

  • Start early by creating new routines. Get activity in before everyone leaves or after they return home — or both.
  • Find ways to encourage pets to entertain themselves with special toys, boxes or even hidden treats.
  • Don’t punish your pets for their failure to adjust when their routine changes.