“How are we going to entertain ourselves now?
Oh, I know!” (Shutterstock)When the little hoomans go back to school, we might imagine that cats are doing the happy dance, while dogs are feeling sorry for themselves. To get the real story, I asked veterinary behaviorist Dr. Lisa Radosta what it may mean for our furry companions when kids head back to class.
Q. Are changes pets might experience when kids go back to school after being home all summer something we need to be discussing with our clients preemptively?
Yes, of course! We always want to prepare our furry kids for changes in their routine, and back to school is a big one. The technicians in our practices can spend time with the client. It doesn’t have to be a doctor.
Q. Could there be an opposite effect that when the kids are at school, the adults get to better hone the human-animal bond?
If one or more of the parents stay home, yes. But if the parents go back to work, it will more likely be negative. Lots of dogs love the human kids who live in the home, but often I see that they are more closely bonded with the adults. They play with the kids and sleep with them, but they go to the adults for safety. So the changes to the kids’ schedules cause changes to the adults’ schedules and there is stress.
Q. What are some signs to watch for that pets may have the back-to-school blues?
• Depression as the family leaves
• Signs of separation distress or anxiety such as destruction, urination, defecation, howling or barking when alone
• Following the family around more than usual when they are home
• If the pet is storm-phobic, a worsening of the behavior because the family isn’t home when the pet experiences storms.
Q. Might some animals—just like parents—enjoy having the kids out of their hair/fur?
Oh yes! Some dogs simply tolerate the kids or can have their fill, so they may be happy to have their personal space.
Q. Does it help to play animal videos and music when pets are left alone in the house?
Music soothes dogs and cats. The literature supports that dogs in kennel situations bark less when classical music is played and cats require less anesthesia when classical music is played via headphones. However, in the veterinary clinic, the only effect that has been shown was on the veterinary team members working on the patients. So the bottom line is that it is helpful to soothe kitties and doggies and it can’t hurt, but don’t expect too much.
Your homework assignment
Make sure you’re discussing the possibilities of back-to-school blues with clients. Depending on a pet’s individual reactions and needs, you can tailor a program that will help ease the transition. If people are already aware their pets may be anxious, it would be wise to try to add some extra play time into the day. Pet owners could wake up early and spend time with the pet, for example, by mixing up their morning run routine up and going to a dog-friendly space. Or your clients could set aside time as an after-school activity to include furry family members. Whatever pet owners can do to be more conscious of their pets’ needs during this time is a great first step.
Hilal Dogan, BVSc, owns the mobile veterinary practice Dogan Vet Care in Maui, Hawaii. She started the Veterinary Confessionals Project as a senior veterinary student at Massey University in New Zealand.