Back to School – But What About the Pets?

Parent walking child and dog to school

Ah, September. Brand new school uniforms still with creases from the packets; the excitement of buying new stationery; trying to find the book bag with the unfinished holiday homework; the inevitable discussions about which teacher will be taking which class. That last week of the school holidays and first week of the new term are more than slightly chaotic for even the most organised of families.

But have you ever considered what this time of year does to our pets? Most animals thrive on having a set, predictable routine and even small disruptions can cause uncertainty. New smells can worry our more anxious pets, and some simply just miss the extra company. Consider the family cat that likes to sleep on your son’s bed – but this year he’s off to university. What can you do to help?

We’ll discuss some symptoms of animals that are struggling with the change, and some ways of keeping things as comfortable as possible.


New puppy

The first one we’re going to discuss is the case of the new puppy. Lots of families choose the start of the summer holidays as the time to get a new puppy, and you’ve probably had a wonderful summer training, walking and playing together. For young dogs, big changes in routine can be very scary and its important to remember that your new puppy has got used to having family around for most of the day.

In order to avoid your dog developing separation anxiety, try to ease them into the change in routine. A couple of weeks before going back to school, start leaving them at home on their own for longer periods so that it isn’t a big shock to the system. Even if, come September, somebody is working from home to look after them it’s a good idea to get them used to a quieter house without attention all the time.


Cystitis in Cats

Cats can develop symptoms of a urine infection that are entirely down to stress. They visit the tray more often, lick their genitals and even urinate blood. They may also go off their food. Sometimes stress cystitis can go so far as to cause a male cat to become unable to urinate, which is exceedingly painful and an emergency – either way, it’s best to get your cat seen by a vet if they develop these symptoms as it’s a painful condition. Cats with this condition are often repeat offenders, and will likely suffer with on-off cystitis for the rest of their lives.

Minimising stress in cats is often about giving them places to hide, but when stress is caused by changes in family dynamics it can be tricky to come up with a solution. A safe space with a Feliway plug in may help them to feel more secure, and if the person leaving is somebody they’re particularly attached to, an item of worn clothing in or near their bed may provide them with some comfort. Try to keep the rest of their routine the same wherever possible, including feeding times. Remember that if a new school year brings home new friends, your cat may prefer a quiet space away from riotous games.

It’s also worth mentioning that if your cat timeshares part of his territory with another cat, a change to the routine could mean he goes out at a different time, potentially coming into contact with this other cat and getting into a fight. Look out for signs of injuries, and try to keep their routine as similar as possible despite the changes.


Overgrooming in Cats

Much like cystitis, overgrooming in cats is a sign of stress. Many owners don’t notice their cats overgrooming, but a bald patch, especially on the tummy, is a sure sign that a cat isn’t at their happiest.

Once again, finding a safe space for your cat to hide can make them feel more comfortable. Since many cats like to be high up, try clearing an accessible shelf and putting some old clothing on there to act as a bed. Feliway in the house may help. Remember that although your cat might be missing human company, getting a companion cat is likely to stress them out more as cats are naturally solitary creatures.


Separation Anxiety

It’s not uncommon for dogs to develop separation anxiety after a long summer of spending lots of time with the family. Dogs with separation anxiety may bark, cry, whine or yap when you leave the house. Some will settle down, but many can get themselves so wound up they end up toileting, destroying furniture and refusing to eat.

If your dog does seem to be suffering from separation anxiety, a referral to a behaviourist is probably in order. Some behaviourists will do Skype consultations, which allows them to cover a greater area. In the meantime, talk to your vet about calming supplements and consider making changes to your routine to allow you to be home more, so that your dog doesn’t get more anxious than he already is. For older dogs, doggy dementia may be causing some of the symptoms and this should be treated as well.


Whether it’s a new school, a big exam year or simply a new uniform, we wish you all the best this September with all your endeavours. Just don’t forget to think about your pets!


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