Your pet helped you through some of the most difficult times of the pandemic. Whether you were already a pet owner, or became one during those months at home, they provided constant companionship, stability, and a light-hearted reprieve during a frightening time. Your pet has become accustomed to your presence during the day, and if you have school-age children, that will soon change.

As you prepare for the kids’ return to school, you are not the only one who will need time to adjust. Your pet’s daily routine also will change, and they will be home alone more, which can be stressful. Our team at  Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care shares six tips to help you prepare your pet for a smooth back-to-school transition.

#1: Introduce your pet’s new routines in advance

Your pet is adaptable, but give them plenty of time to adjust to changes in their routine before the kids rush out the door on the first day of school. Begin at least three weeks in advance by slowly implementing your family’s new schedule, including the following changes to your pet’s routine:

  • Early mornings — Set the alarm, and begin your mornings as you would on a normal school day. If your pet is used to the day starting more slowly, they will need time to adjust to the early commotion, as you rush to get kids up, dressed, fed, packed, and out the door. 
  • Mealtimes and potty breaks —When your dog is alone at home, they must wait longer to relieve themselves, so adjust their meal times to the new schedule, and start staggering their potty breaks. If you will be gone for longer than eight hours, consider hiring someone to let them outside midday, or consider doggy daycare.
  • Time left alone — If your pet was born or adopted during the pandemic, they know only their current “normal.” They may have been comfortable being left home alone pre-pandemic, but now they will need time to re-adjust. Start by leaving your pet for short periods of time, and watch for anxiety signs. You can peek in on your pet in real time by installing a camera. Slowly Increase the length of your absence. However, if you notice signs of separation anxiety, contact your veterinarian for advice. 
  • Exercise schedule — Your dog’s daily exercise routine may look different, but physical activity is more important than ever during times of change. As the saying goes, “A tired pet is a happy pet.” Walk your dog in the morning, and when you return home. Other options, like hiring a dog-walker, doggy daycare, or going home midday, will ensure your dog gets the exercise they need. 

#2: Leave toys and treats to mentally stimulate your pet

If you were left at home with nothing to do, you would feel bored, and the same is true for your pet. Leave your dog with interactive toys or treats, like a Kong filled with frozen peanut butter, to keep them busy. Don’t forget about the cat—sprinkle a small amount of catnip on their favorite toy, and hide a few treats they can hunt while you’re away.

#3: Play soothing sounds for your pet

Your pet has been surrounded by noise and activity, and may feel anxious in a silent, empty house. Help them cope by providing background noise, such as playing music or a lively television talk show, during the day. 

#4: Leave your pet without making a fuss

You may feel guilty as you pass your dog on the way to the door, but resist the urge to stop and cuddle, feed them treats, and apologize profusely—in “baby talk,” of course—for leaving. Sure, you will feel better, but such over-the-top gestures can increase your pet’s anxiety, because they will begin to associate these cues with your departure. Stay calm, and set a relaxing tone for your pet’s day. Simply walk out the door—you can turn into mush when you reach the car—and return home in the same low-key manner. 

#5: Watch your pet for separation anxiety signs

Observe your pet’s behavior closely as you introduce new routines, and when leaving and returning home. The following behaviors can signal separation anxiety:

  • Trembling
  • Drooling
  • Increased barking or whining
  • Urinating or defecating inside for dogs, or outside the litter box for cats
  • Attempting to escape through windows, doors, or crates

If you think your pet is suffering from separation anxiety, contact your veterinarian. They can provide anti-anxiety medication in some cases, and recommend a behaviorist, if needed. 

#6: Be patient with your pet

Remember the many ways your pet supported you—and still does—during the pandemic. They were there for you when your whole life was turned upside down, and now you can be there for them. If your pet has a medical emergency, contact Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care immediately. And, have a great school year!