In September it’s not just our kids that have to adjust
By Natasha Ashton, Petplan pet insurance co-founder and co-CEO
When lazy summer days give way to structured schedules in September, one family member can have a particularly tough time weathering the transition: our pets!
Many pet parents see a spike in separation anxiety in pets who lose summer companions to the classroom. In my family, our dog definitely gets gloomy when his human brother hops on the school bus and rides away. This inspired me to turn to Petplan’s policyholders to see how their furry friends fare. So we surveyed more than 4,000 people and 26% of those with “back-to-school-ers” reported that their pet shows signs of separation anxiety in September!
But is it really back to school related? We also asked the non-school crowd, and just 10% of those pet parents reported seeing signs of September separation anxiety. So it’s reasonable to assume that Fido can feel stressed by the sudden increase in alone time.
How to Know When a Pet is Stressed
When pets are anxious about being left behind, most exhibit behaviors like clinging, trying to follow the family out the door, changes in appetite, accidents in the house and even destructive behavior. Some pets will go to unusual lengths to get their owner’s attention – one pet parent from the survey said her pet will open the refrigerator and pull out all the food if she doesn’t tape it shut when she leaves! If your furry friend starts acting funny when class is in session, it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian for ways to ease the anxiety.
The Importance of Exercise
In addition to being home alone more often, pets in “back-to-school” households typically receive less exercise than they enjoyed during the summer months – which can exacerbate the stress associated with this time of year. Twenty percent of survey respondents with family members going back to school said their pets exercise less come September, and 29% said their pet spends less time outside. It’s no wonder furry friends are feeling fraught!
As your family adjusts to a new school schedule, be sure to carve out quality time for pets. Whether it’s a morning walk, chasing a ball or laser, or practicing obedience commands, this time will help pets get their daily dose of exercise and give them the companionship they’re missing from the summer. Getting the whole family involved will make things fun and keep pets engaged! Be sure your pet gets to play both outdoors and inside.
Easing the Anxiety at Home
If it were up to them, we’d never leave pets home alone! But just because a furry friend is flying solo doesn’t mean he has to be bored. Try these tips to make school days smoother for your four-legged family:
Practice makes perfect: If your pet seems to stress when you head for the door, practice coming and going to get him used to the transition. Put on your shoes, grab your keys and go outside for a few minutes, then come back in. Increase the amount of time for each “departure” to help your pet become more comfortable when you leave.
Busy their brains: Give your pet something to think about while you’re gone, like a treat-filled toy or food puzzle. Keeping his nose in something stimulating will help keep his mind off of being alone.
Keep calm: Try not to make a fuss when you leave or be too excited when you return home. Calmly say goodbye and hello to your pet so he learns that coming and going is nothing to be emotional about.
Buddy up: Get a dog walker or pet sitter or enroll your pup in doggie daycare to help break up the stress and monotony of hours spent solo. It doesn’t have to be forever – some pets just need a little extra help during the transition.
Keeping pets happy during the back-to-school season is important, but keeping them healthy is essential every season of the year. By paying a little extra attention to your pet when there’s a transition afoot, and calling your veterinarian if you see signs of real stress, you can make sure your best friend gets an A+ in health – no matter what changes life brings.