The Official Houston SPCA Humane Education Blog

Teaching us about our animal friends

Avoiding the Back to School Blues – Pet Separation Anxiety

It is that time of year again when backpacks are packed, pencils are sharpened and lunches are ready to go! As students head into a brand new school year, let’s remember that you may still have some furry friends at home who will need your attention.

During the summer months, students who are able to stay at home with their pets can give them lots of love and attention. However, when those students go back to school, their pets may feel some separation anxiety or loneliness.

Some signs that your pet may be feeling a bit anxious or lonely include:

Excessive barking or meowing

Chewing or destructive behavior

Guilty dog chewing woman's shoes

Pacing 

Trying to escape from their home

Urinating or defecating inside the house (outside of the litter box!)

If your pet starts showing signs of separation anxiety, make sure to take them to your veterinarian! Your veterinarian will check to see if there are other issues that would be causing these behaviors.

To help your pets avoid the ‘back to school’ blues, here are a few tips to keep them happy and occupied:

Mental Stimulation

Cat Scratch DJ on Make A Gif

Keeping your pet mentally stimulated throughout the day is one of the best ways to overcome separation anxiety. For cats, cat trees, scratching posts and puzzle feeders with delicious goodies are great ways to keep busy. For dogs, there are many toys that will help keep them busy all day long. My favorite is the PetSafe Busy Buddy Squirrel Dude. I fill the Squirrel Dude with part of my dog’s diet (don’t want them getting too many extra treats!) and some peanut butter. I freeze this combination overnight then give the Squirrel Dude to my dog during the day. It takes a long time for the inside to thaw out and keeps my pup happy for hours. The more your pets are focused on puzzles and toys, the less they are focused on you being out of the house.

Reward Positive Behaviors

cute dog gif

When training your pets (Yes, you can train cats!), you always want to reward your pet for the behaviors you want them to learn. Try to avoid rewarding your cat or dog with attention or treats when they meow or bark at you. Instead, reward them when they are quiet and calm or have found something to keep themselves busy. More interactive training can be beneficial as well. Helping your pets learn how to ‘sit,’ ‘stay’ or ‘lay down’ can help when you are leaving for the day. Training with your pets every day helps to stimulate their minds and moves them toward being more confident in themselves.

Play with Your Pet Every Day

golden retriever life is good gif

One of the best parts of having a pet is getting to play with them! So why not play with them every day for at least 30 minutes? Everyone in the family will enjoying designated play time – your pets will have fun, your family will de-stress and everyone will bond a bit more with each other.

Exercise

Another way to help your pet be a little bit calmer while you are away is to make sure they have exercised before you leave. Taking your dog on a 30 minute walk each day before you head to school, or playing laser-tag with your cat for a while, will help them spend some of the energy they may have put toward being anxious on exercising. Exercising each day will also help keep their weight in check!

Do not Make a Big Deal Out of Leaving

If you think your dog or cat is going to be anxious after you leave for the day, try not to make the goodbye process too long. Animals can sense our emotions and the more upset you are about leaving them at home, the more upset your pets may become when you actually leave. Keep your goodbyes casual and your pet will be less worried about you being gone.

Doggie Daycare and Dog Walkers

Another option for your pet to help with anxiety is to not leave them at home – book them with your local doggie daycare! You can leave your dog in the capable hands of a doggie daycare where the staff will play with your dog, help them socialize with other dogs and feed them if needed. Another option is hiring a dog walker to come to your home and walk your dog once or twice a day. This will help your dog get some much needed exercise which can help reduce stress and anxiety.

Now your family is ready to keep your pet happy and busy all day long!

You aren’t the only ones going back to school this August – the Houston SPCA’s School Program is back in full swing with many brand new sessions available to Houston area schools. Sign-up today to enjoy a free presentation at your school from our Humane Education Instructor. For more information about the Houston SPCA visiting your school, please visit www.HoustonSPCA.org!

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