As kids across the country head off to college, parents aren’t the only ones feeling the sting of an empty nest. When a family member is suddenly missing from daily life, a pet can also experience the back to school blues. Also referred to as separation anxiety, the back to school blues in pets can take a toll on a their sense of security and happiness.

Fortunately, there is plenty that an attentive pet owner can do to help ease the transition that occurs when a child leaves the home. Your team at Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center is committed to helping you get your pet back on track!

Signs Of Back To School Blues In Pets

Some of the more common behavior changes that accompany back to school blues in pets include:

  • Lack of usual energy
  • More time sleeping
  • Decreased appetite
  • Excessive barking/whining/other vocalization
  • Destructive chewing or scratching
  • House soiling
  • Repetitive searching, sniffing, looking out of windows
  • Hanging out in the absent person’s room or with their belongings

Setting The Stage

Some pets have a tough time adapting to a change in the household, but you can help mitigate your pet’s anxiety by preparing him or her ahead of time as much as possible.

Start by making small changes before your student leaves home, such as assigning another family to pet care tasks that normally belonged to the departing student. Have your student spend a little less time with your pet in the weeks leading up to his or her departure and increase your pet’s bonding time with other family members. This can include taking over the activities the pet was used to doing with the student, as well as introducing new ones that the pet will enjoy.

Helping Them Cope

Every pet is unique in its ability to cope with changes in the home, but we have found the following strategies to be particularly effective:

  • Exercise – The value of daily exercise to counteract back to school blues in pets cannot be understated. A physically active game or a walk outdoors will not only burn calories and tire out your pet, but the release of endorphins that follow exercise will work to reduce stress. It will also help re-direct your pet’s energy and attention.
  • Enrichment – Provide plenty of opportunities for mental and physical enrichment, such as new and interesting chew toys, food puzzles, and interactive games, including, laser pointer, feather chase, and hide-and-seek.
  • Extra attention – Commit to taking some one-on-one time with your pet each day, and encourage family members to do the same. The extra attention and snuggles will go a long way toward making a sad pet feel better.
  • Training – Positive reinforcement training, whether at home or with a professional, can offer the challenge of learning and provide a new focus with other family members. Our Canine Academy offers several options for helping a dog that is experiencing separation anxiety.
  • Additional help – Pheromones, such as Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats, are easy to add to your pet’s surroundings and can help to ease stress and anxiety in many cases. These products come in both sprays and wall plug-ins, and we carry them in our lobby store. Pets suffering from severe anxiety may also benefit from anti-anxiety medication, and our medical staff will be happy to discuss this option with you, if needed.

In all the hustle and bustle of preparing your young adult for the transition away from home, it’s important to prepare your four-legged friends, as well. As always, your friends at Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center are here to help you with any concerns you have for your pet!