How is it already September? Although we can’t speak for everyone, the Rumpus Writing and Editing team is certain that summer somehow gets shorter every year.

Back-to-school season signals an abrupt and dramatic schedule change for pets—one day their home is full of activity and human companionship, and the next, they’re alone for eight hours—or longer. Help your clients ease their pet’s transition and avoid anxiety or boredom-related behavior problems by sharing these back-to-school tips in the examination room or on your online platforms.

Describe common separation anxiety signs

Educating pet owners about common separation anxiety signs can help them recognize subtle   changes in their pet’s behavior. Caution owners that separation anxiety will not go away on its own, can escalate and become destructive and dangerous (e.g., chewing, digging, self-harm, and escape), and can progress to generalized anxiety disorder. 

Consider creating a back-to-school graphic or checklist that lists separation anxiety signs and a response. Share the list online and in the examination room for clients to share, print, or post on their refrigerator. Encourage pet owners to first contact your office—not their trainer—if they notice changes in their pet’s behavior.

Encourage pet owners to make gradual changes

When possible, encourage clients to gradually phase in their pet’s back-to-school routine,  rather than all at once. Remind them that pets can’t rationalize the reason behind their new lifestyle, and sensitive pets who experience too many changes may stop eating, change their elimination habits, or attempt to relieve stress by chewing, digging, vocalizing, or demonstrating clingy behavior.

Like people, pets respond best to change by acclimating slowly rather than a total upheaval, and may need several weeks or longer to feel comfortable with their new routine.

Emphasize morning and evening exercise for pets

Remind your clients that exercise is a natural stress reliever and can help pets burn off positive—and nervous—energy. Active pets sleep more restfully and are more likely to spend the day napping than wondering when their companions will return. Advise clients to schedule their pet’s exercise before and after the busy portion of the day—and to ensure their children complete the task. 

For in-clinic patients, provide appropriate exercise recommendations based on the pet’s age, breed, and health. Suggest to clients the types and amount of exercise their pet needs to help them visualize how to fit the activity in their new schedule, prevent over-exercising, and reduce injury risk for unconditioned, arthritic, and overweight pets.

If work, school, and after-curricular activities make morning and evening exercise impossible, suggest alternatives, such as:

  • Midday break — Owners, friends, or relatives may be able to stop by on their lunch break and provide a satisfying walk or play session. 
  • Dog walker or pet sitter — In addition to exercise, these services can provide positive social interaction for lonely pets.
  • Doggie daycare — Daycare can provide great physical and mental engagement for social dogs. Some daycare centers also offer convenient pick-up and drop-off, as well as day-training services. 

Encourage pet owners to create a comfortable space

Advise pet owners that young, adolescent, and senior pets will be safer during the day in a confined area. Depending on the pet’s training and mobility, this may be a crate, pen, room, or restricted access to certain areas. Encourage your clients to make the space comfortable, and to acclimate their pet before the school year begins by confining them for gradually increasing periods of time.

Nervous pets may also benefit from pheromone products, such as Adaptil or Feliway. Advise owners to leave on a radio or television and to close the curtains to avoid visual stimuli that might frustrate their pet. Food-stuffed toys, such as Kongs and West Paw Toppls, may provide long-lasting entertainment and be a healthy distraction for polite chewers, while cats and kittens can enjoy sniffing hidden treats or kibble from a snuffle mat.

Show pet owners how to perform calm departures and greetings

Clients may unknowingly contribute to their pet’s back-to-school stress with dramatic farewells and big reunion celebrations. Inform clients that these emotional displays can increase their pet’s arousal and anxiety and contribute to their panic. Coach pet owners to make their departures and arrivals a non-event with short goodbyes and saying “Hello” only when their pet is calm.

Options for managing and easing pet anxiety

Reassure concerned owners whose pets are already experiencing back-to-school behavior changes, and emphasize hope. While severe separation anxiety can harm the pet-owner bond, multimodal treatment can relieve pet suffering, minimize signs, and help pets learn to cope with change.

Advise pet owners that while medication can be important for reducing pet anxiety, behavior modification and environmental management are also necessary to ensure long-term success. Because early intervention can improve treatment outcomes, encourage owners to act quickly when they notice their pet’s separation anxiety signs.

Back-to-school chaos isn’t limited to your clients and their children. If your busy fall schedule leaves no time for composing your practice’s online content, let the Rumpus Writing and Editing team be your “Hall pass.” Our writers will work with you to design and publish A+ content that puts your practice at the head of the class. Don’t hope to be saved by the bell—request your consultation via our website.