Back to School Blues: separation anxiety in pets

Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Sep 22 2011

The kids are back in school, and that usually brings a wild round of cheers from parents who may now get a few minutes to themselves during the week. For our pets, though, sending the kids off to school can trigger depression and separation anxiety.

Maybe your pets are like you and welcome the reprieve that school brings them, but some dogs and cats are more sensitive than others, and sudden changes in their schedules or surroundings can lead to changes in their behavior. This counts for “empty nest” syndrome, too; when you send your young adult off to college, often your pets are losing their favorite companion.

Be on the lookout for behavior changes in both your dogs and cats. Destructive behavior and excessive vocalization while you are gone are indicators that your dog is suffering from anxiety when left alone. It may seem like house training has gone out the window, too, as your dog may inappropriately eliminate during these separation events. Cats don’t seem to suffer from separation anxiety like our canine friends, but they can become depressed and may wander from room to room looking for their lost friend. Pets also pick up on our emotions, so if you’re saddened by your empty nest, try not to let your emotions get the best of you around your four-legged family members.

If your pet has the back to school blues, pay extra attention to her. Increase the amount of exercise you’re giving your dog by adding in an additional walk each day, or set some time aside during the day to engage your cat in his favorite kind of play. Leave toys or treat-filled Kongs out while you’re gone to engage your pet’s mind and occupy his time, and consider doggy day care a few days a week if it fits in the budget; hanging out with other dogs tends to perk up even the saddest pooch.

If your pet’s separation anxiety is severe, seek the advice of your veterinarian. These pets are truly suffering when they are alone, and may need both behavior modification and medications to help ease their stress.