Going back to school can be a time of change, not only for your children but also for the whole family, with many new routines for everyone adjust to. These changes can also have an effect on your pet, especially if their routine is affected. After an exciting summer filled with plenty of attention, the new school term can bring about sudden change for your pet that, as a result, may cause some individuals to start showing signs of separation anxiety.
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a behavioural condition that occurs when a pet cannot cope with being separated from their owner and left on their own. An affected pet will show certain behavioural signs when left, which are often undesirable and distressing for both you and your pet. It is primarily a condition that affects dogs, though some cats may also show behavioural signs that are linked to being left alone, showing that any pet can suffer from the effects of sudden changes to their routine.
Does my pet have separation anxiety?
Any unwanted behaviours that our pets develop as a result of being left alone could be due to separation anxiety. As dogs are the most common pet to develop separation anxiety the rest of this article will focus on separation anxiety in dogs. If you have a pet that has started showing behavioural changes as a result of your children going back to school, one of our vets will be able to provide advice specifically for them.
There are a range of behavioural signs that may commonly be seen in dogs suffering from separation anxiety. The severity of the signs will also vary depending on the individual dog.
● Destructive behaviour when left - chewing furniture and their owners’ belongings, scratching doors, walls and floors
● Loss of toilet training - inappropriate urination and passing faeces in the house
● Barking and vocalising
● Salivating and pacing
● Extreme excitement when you return home
● Shadowing and clinging to a certain family member
Some of the signs of separation anxiety can be difficult to detect, as dogs may only perform them while you are not there. If you are worried about your dog’s behaviour then it can be useful to video how they act while they are alone, to see if they are showing any behavioural signs.
If you feel that your dog is showing any of the signs of separation anxiety, we would recommend bringing your pet in to see one of our vets. Firstly, a health check will be performed to ensure that there are no underlying medical conditions which may be contributing to the behavioural signs. Then for the majority of dogs we will be able to put together a treatment plan designed specifically for your pet.
How may going back to school affect my pet?
Often the start of a new school term can mean major changes for your pet. This may involve being left for longer than they are used to, or a complete change in routine, from when they are fed to when they are given attention or exercise.
For dogs that have become used to having family members around constantly and being regularly involved with family life, the sudden change of children going to school and other family members being out at work can be difficult for some dogs to cope with. However, there are steps that you can take to help your pet adjust which will be discussed below.
How can I help my dog adjust to a recent change in routine?
If your dog has started showing signs of separation anxiety as a result of a recent change in routine, there are steps that you can take to help your pet adjust.
● Decrease the time your dog spends alone - Ideally, dogs should never be alone, so try to avoid or limit the time that your dog spends on their own. Take your dog with you if possible, or get a family member or friend to sit with your pet while you are out. If leaving your dog is unavoidable then a dog walker can be a great way of providing your dog with company and exercise while you are away.
● Increase your dog’s exercise - Make sure that your dog has sufficient exercise and mental stimulation each day. Joining a dog training club can be a great way to provide mental stimulation and develop your bond with your pet.
● Pack bags in advance - Dogs are quick to anticipate when you are going to leave the house, so pack school bags and work bags the night before and have them ready in the car to prevent your dog getting worked up in the morning. Make sure that everyone is calm when they leave the house to try and prevent your dog from getting worked up.
● Distraction - Use treats and boredom toys when you leave your pet to distract them while you leave. Kong toys can be stuffed with food or treats so are great for occupying your dog. Make sure that anything you leave with your dog is safe for them to use unattended.
● Pheromones - Dog pheromones, such as DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone), are synthetic pheromones that mimic the calming pheromones that puppies get from their mother. They are safe to be used long term. There are also cat specific pheromones, such as Feliway, which can be useful for anxious cats. We can discuss these products with you in more detail if you feel they may benefit your pet.
It is important that your pet is never punished for showing an undesirable behavioural sign, as punishment will make the condition worse and can even result in a dog biting. If you are concerned about the signs that your pet is showing then we would recommend bringing your pet in to see one of our vets so they can be assessed and a treatment plan made.
It can take a long time to treat separation anxiety so you need to be patient, but the majority of pets will go on to fully recover. For a small number of individuals with severe signs we may advise referral to a veterinary behaviourist accredited with the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.
How can I prevent separation anxiety in the future?
If you are able to anticipate any upcoming changes to your dog’s routine then there are steps that you can take to minimise the disruption to your pet and to help prevent your dog developing separation anxiety in the future.
● Maintain a routine - Keep your dog’s routine the same every day, including feeding times and when your dog is exercised. If times need to be adjusted then make any changes slowly over a number of days to prevent any sudden change.
● Leaving your dog - If you know that you will need to start leaving your dog in the future then slowly get your pet used to being left alone. Start with leaving your pet for only a couple of minutes and slowly build up to leaving your pet for longer periods of time.
● Dog safe room - make sure that your dog has their own area or room where they feel safe and this should be where they are left. This space should contain familiar items such as their bed and food and water bowls.
● Pheromones - Pheromones such as DAP can also be used in advance of any upcoming changes as a preventative to try and stop any problems developing.
If you are worried about how your
pet is going to cope with the new school term and would like help preparing for
any upcoming changes then speak to one of our team who will be happy to answer
your questions. If your pet is already showing behavioural signs, bring them in to see one of our vets so we
can provide you with any necessary treatment and advice. Pets suffering from
separation anxiety can sometimes take time to improve, but we will continue to
support you throughout this process and our team is available during your pet’s treatment to help you with any queries or concerns that
you may have.