As your kids get ready to go back to school, it’s also time for your pets to spend more time alone, without their favorite people. Some pets may enjoy the peace and quiet, but for others, suddenly being alone for hours at a time can be stressful. In severe cases, separation anxiety develops, which can lead to potty accidents, constant barking, chewing and other destructive behaviors.
To help with the transition, we’ve provided a home schooling “curriculum” to help your pets cope with being alone while they wait for their BFFs to come home.
If pets are home alone and have pent-up energy, it’s usually a bad outcome for both your pet and your possessions. There’s nothing worse than coming home to a chewed-up couch cushion or a scratched-up door after a long day.
To use up some of this energy, set aside time for your pet to exercise in the morning. For example, take your dog on a 30- to 60-minute walk in the morning before everyone leaves for the day. They will appreciate the outside time and the time spent with you. It will also help them feel more like resting during the day instead of demolishing your favorite pillow. If you have a cat, take some time to play with them and their favorite toy or chase the laser pointer around for a while.
One way to help reduce separation anxiety in pets is to make the family’s leaving-the-house routine less obvious to your pet. When you’re leaving and returning, don’t make a big fuss over your departure and return, and only give your pet attention once they’re calm. Another tactic to try before school actually begins for the year is to have the kids put on their shoes and backpacks but not go anywhere. Then after a few times, have them put their gear on and go outside for a few minutes. After doing this a few times and lengthening the time spent outside, your pet will be used to the morning getting-ready-for-school routine, which will hopefully reduce their anxiety. Providing your pet with a treat before you leave can also help them to associate the family leaving with something positive.
All pets need mental stimulation, but it’s even more important if they’re home alone. If pets are bored, it can lead to destructive behaviors like scratching and chewing, just for something to do. Food puzzles are a great way to provide mental stimulation. Just remember to deduct the amount of kibble used in the puzzle from their regular food amount. If you give your pet a new toy, make sure that it can’t be chewed or swallowed, since you won’t be home to supervise them.
Twenty years ago, pet parents would sit at work and wonder what it was that their pets did at home all day. You no longer have to wonder, though, as technology has provided multiple ways to check in on your pets, right from your phone or laptop. Not only can you see what they’re up to on in-home cameras, some models enable you to talk to your pets and even remotely dispense treats to them.
You can also track how active your pet is at home by using an activity monitor on their collar. This can tell you whether your pet is anxiously pacing, constantly doing zoomies around the house or calmly resting. It can be a good way to know whether they need some more exercise in the morning before you leave and if they’re going to need to go for a walk as soon as you get home.
If you can’t be with your pets during the day, you could find someone who can. There are doggy daycares that provide socialization and play experiences for your dog. Or hire a pet sitter or dog walker to come to your house and give your pet some one-on-one time.
Pets love to follow a routine, so hopefully by following these “lessons” and establishing a new back-to-school routine, your pets will be comfortable home alone. If your pet is still showing signs of separation anxiety, talk with your veterinarian about other options available to help them.
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