It’s that time of year again! The kids are heading back to school or off to college, and it’s an exciting time for everyone. But remember, this also means a change to your pet’s home environment, which could include the people they interact with, their schedule and routine, and level of supervision. This can cause an increase in pet back-to-school anxiety around the house.

Dogs and cats are creatures of habit. Some can deal with change without developing problems, while others will act out in many different ways. Dr. Jeremy Wong, who works in Emergency and Critical Care at SAGE Concord, has found that some of the health problems that owners report in their pets are associated with a change in their home environment—less people, more people, new people, or changes in their owners’ schedules.

Signs of Separation Anxiety

Dogs experiencing separation anxiety or stress may urinate or defecate inside the house, eat or chew on items inappropriately, be destructive in other ways, or vocalize until someone returns home. Cats can have similar signs, but are often more subtle with changes in behavior as simple as hiding, moving around less, or acting more detached or dismissive.

Will all pets experience anxiety when schedules change? It depends. Some breeds are more susceptible to anxiety when their schedules or environments change. For example, working dogs, or dogs bred to do a job, like Collies, Pointers and Labradors, may be accustomed to regular hikes outdoors, regular rigorous play or activity, or performing chores or tasks. They may find that suddenly being home alone is boring or troubling.

The way pets react to changes may depend on:

  • Their previous exposure to change
  • How extreme the new changes are
  • If they are given alternative activities or people to occupy themselves

Pet Back-To-School Anxiety Tips

As you introduce new fall routines into your schedule, make sure you prepare the whole family for what’s in store. Here are a few helpful tips:

  • Stick to a daily routine. Rise and shine, family meals and playtime should all be scheduled at approximately the same time every day.
  • Try to exercise your dog in the morning. A tired dog is a happy dog, which will limit outbursts caused by pent up energy.
  • Playing with your cat for ten minutes before leaving will keep him/her satisfied into the day. Try to keep one window open so they have visual stimulation.
  • Consider placing a web cam in your home so you can keep an eye on your pet while you are away.
  • For many pets, nothing beats companionship! If you can, stop by your house to give your pet some attention during the day. Or ask a friend or family member to stop by.
  • Have the kids give the pet a special toy to associate something positive with them leaving for school. And make sure to put the toy away once home so it stays a special treat.

If you have it in the budget, dog walkers or pet sitters every few days will give your dog the opportunity to socialize with people and other dogs.

Hopefully, your pet will eventually acclimate to your new schedule. If you have ongoing concerns or if you suspect their behavior may be the result of a health issue, seek veterinary advice.