Back to School Stress in Pets
Both dogs and cats really live by routines. They feel the most secure and happy when you wake up at the same time every day, feed them at the same times daily, give them their walks and play times also on a schedule. When the schedule changes, it can cause some stress in our pets. Our pets know when school is starting and may act up at this time of year. Back packs, folders, binders, kids getting up early and leaving on school buses are all big signals that school is back in session.
Some dogs show signs of anxiety - pacing, carrying around an article of clothing, whining, or even house soiling are all signs of anxiety. It is a form of separation anxiety now that the dog is being separated from family members. Cats may meow more, avoid using the litter box, knock more things off of the shelves or have more spats with other house cats. You can't keep everyone home, so how do we help these pets?
First of all maintain all the feeding time, play time, exercise routines for your pets as school is starting up. Don't let the business of life cause you to skip walks, play times or vary the feeding time. Routines are the basis for all anxiety management for both dogs and cats.
Secondly - tell your veterinarian about what you see. Sometimes there can be pain problems, or other health problems that is behind the anxiety signs as well. Maybe from all the summer activities you did not notice as much how hard it was for your dog to move around and now at the busy breakfast table your dog is whining because it hurts to keep getting out of the way of everyone as they are rushing out the door. For anxiety that is causing loose stools - there may be other intestinal problems too so talk to your veterinarian!
Lastly - there are medications, supplements, special foods, pheromones and a host of other products to help both the dog and the cat that is affected by anxiety at this time of year. Thunder shirts, Adaptil collars, the new calm diet are easy products to use. Consult with a veterinarian who has additional training in behavior to help determine the product that would help your pet the most. This is not a training problem, and the root cause of the anxiety must be determined then a plan for the behavior is formed. Trainers with additional certification in behavior, or other degreed animal behaviorists can also help in forming a behavior plan with the collaboration of your veterinarian.
I stress the involvement of the veterinarian because I have seen many cases where both the trainer or non DVM professional is working to help with the behavior but it is going slow. What was missing was the discovery and treatment of a physical problem that was making the underlying behavior worse. Once that was treated and considered with the behavior plan, the pet's behavior improved quickly. Chronic pain from arthritis, occult parasites and food allergy are just a few examples. As animal behavioral medicine advances, we are finding many physical causes that show up as just a behavior problem. Please keep your veterinarian in the loop when your pet acts up. It may be something easy to treat that you may not have been aware of.
So, I hope everyone has a good start to the new school year. Good luck to all our students, teachers, and school staff and summer will be here before we know it!
- written by Dr. Sally J. Foote