Furry Therapy - Supporting your pet through the back-to-school blues with

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! We have teamed up with our vet care provider Joii, to provide helpful tips and information to help make the transition smooth for everyone!

Cats and dogs are sensitive animals: even small changes in their environment can trigger stress. A change in routine, such as the kids going back to school, receiving less attention, going on shorter walks and being left alone for longer periods of time, can all lead to stress and boredom in our pets.

Stress and boredom can affect pets of any age, breed, or lifestyle. They are very good at hiding when they are stressed, and the signs are often subtle and hard to spot.

How to know when a pet is stressed?

Signs of stress in cats and dogs can appear as both changes in their behaviour and physical health. Symptoms may start slowly or appear suddenly.

Physical health

  • Eating and drinking less or more than normal

  • Vomiting and diarrhoea

  • Poor coat condition, hair loss and skin sores

  • Weight loss

  • Low energy (lethargy), sleeping more than normal

  • Squatting, painful urination, or more frequent urination. This is especially common in male cats, who can develop a very dangerous urinary blockage. Stress plays a major role in this condition

  • Over-grooming can be a common sign in cats

Behavioural signs

  • Scratching the furniture

  • Hiding away or becoming withdrawn

  • Vocalisation

  • Restlessness or pacing

  • Going to the toilet in the house

  • Sudden aggression

  • Destructive behaviour

Easing the anxiety at home

If it were up to them- our pets would never let us leave home! But just because a furry friend is flying solo doesn’t mean they have 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 them used for 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 more comfortable when you leave.

  • Avoid sudden changes: Anticipate any changes and take steps in advance to make this a more gradual change. For example, if feeding or walking times are going to abruptly change during school days, try to do this gradually over a few weeks. 

  • Busy their brains: Give your pet something to think about while you’re gone, like a treat-filled toy or food puzzle. Keeping their nose in something stimulating will help keep their mind off 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 enrol your pup in doggie day care to help break up the stress and monotony of hours spent solo. It doesn’t have to forever- some pets just need a little help during the transition.

  • Exercise: Provide adequate exercise and playtime for both physical and mental stimulation. Use puzzle toys, teach them a new trick, or hide treats for them to find. Sniffing provides great stimulation for dogs: allow them time for this when out walking.

  • Calming remedies: A combination of calming remedies may also be helpful to reduce stress in our pets. These include pheromone adapters and sprays, calming supplements, weighted jackets, and beds. Always seek advice from a professional to find the best one to use, and a combination may be possible. These products should be used alongside a behavioural modification plan. It may take several weeks before you see any improvement.  

Are some pets more prone to stress?

Any animal regardless of age, breed, or sex can become stressed. Just like humans, our pets are all individuals, and they all react differently to changes in situations. However, some risk factors can lead to a higher risk of developing stress:

  • A lack of socialisation when young can lead to fear-related problems in the future

  • Underlying disease, such as pain due to arthritis

  • Rescue pets with pre-existing issues

  • Older dogs are more at risk of dementia, which can affect anxiety levels

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.

Source: Jenifer Macindoe BVMS MRCVS for Joii

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