Bark To School: How Back-To-School Season Can Affect Pets

Back-to-school season is a time of excitement, anxiety, and transition—and your pet may be feeling the effects, too. Here's how to prepare.

Stefanie Stewart, DVM

Updated September 07, 2022 • Published September 06, 2022

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Bark To School: How Back-To-School Season Can Affect Pets

Back-to-school season can be a busy time of mixed emotions, from the anticipation and stress of new beginnings to the joy of meeting new friends and teachers. Oh, and the excitement of new supplies, gadgets, and classes!

A lot goes on in a short amount of time, and expectations for adjustment from a less structured summer to a regularly scheduled school week can be heavy. 

This is also a significant transition period for your pet. Consider how much extra attention and exercise they received over the summer break playing with kids. They had increased access to the outdoors, a lax in night time and morning routines, and more bonding time with the family. The sudden change the school year brings may lead to issues for your pet as they try to quickly adjust to the confusion of unfamiliar situations.

It's beneficial for pet parents to be aware of the changes their four-legged friends might experience during this transition so they can work with their vet to make sure they're happy and healthy.

How back-to-school season affects pets

Decreased exercise

Some dogs and cats may have free access to the outdoors through a pet door, but for those that do not, their daily exercise becomes significantly decreased when the kids return to school. Frequent walks and playtime with the family pet take a back seat to homework and extracurricular activities. This can create concerns with your pet's mental and physical health and may lead to destructive or undesirable behaviors. 

It's important to continue to set aside some time daily for increased activity for your pet, incorporating more than just time roaming around in a fenced yard. Many dogs benefit from at least one hour of vigorous activity several times per week, if not daily, to promote a healthy weight and prevent mental dullness, anxiety, and depression.

For high energy breeds and dogs with anxiety concerns, this need may increase to around two hours per day. The time should be divided and the activity paced to meet the needs of your individual pet. And there is no doubt that people can benefit from exercising with their pets as well.

So what can exercising your pet look like? Again, any exercise routine should be tailored to your individual pet’s need and capabilities, but here are some suggestions. For outdoor activities for dogs, consider long walks or jogging, swimming, playing fetch, hiking, outdoor agility training, and dog sports such as flyball and breed-specific abilities. Activities such as tugging, stairs, and walking on the treadmill can work for indoor activity when needed, and there are some indoor agility training programs as well.

For indoor cats, enrichment of their environment is pivotal in improving their quality of life.  Consider hiding treats around the house for them to hunt and find, toys that encourage movement and hunting skills, spraying a favorite toy with catnip, and providing vertical surfaces like cat trees for them to climb. 

Separation anxiety

Not every pet will experience separation anxiety, but for those that do, it can be debilitating. One of the best ways to help your pet cope with impending change from their human returning to school is to have a gradual adjustment period leading up to the start of school. This can often include a gradual increase in time that you are away from your pet and restarting routines for bedtime and morning wake-up while your pet still has time to adjust with you at home.  

Environmental enrichment during the day can be helpful. For your feline friend, hiding treats, providing a window perch, and having favorite toys available for distraction can be helpful. Some dogs may benefit from having a radio or TV on for background noise, receiving a food-filled toy to keep them busy as the family makes their exit, and regular exercise as discussed above.

Be sure not to make a big deal about your leaving in the morning and vary your leaving routine slightly if possible, but do shower your pet with attention and reassurance when the family is back together.

For more significant cases, consider crate training for their comfort and protection and discussing your concerns with your veterinarian to see if further intervention is needed.

Potential hazards

Kids are notorious for bringing home special treats and treasures from school. Be sure to keep their book bags out of reach of the family pets to avoid exposure to candy, small toys that may become choking hazards or intestinal obstructions, and important homework and assignments that may get ruined if Fluffy decides to investigate. And be sure to keep your pet secured to avoid mishaps while the school bus is picking up and dropping off. 

Lastly, take the time to check over your pet regularly for any concerns. Often the busyness of back to school life can take over and developing issues with your pet’s health may go unnoticed. Recognizing your pet’s potential to struggle with the upcoming changes of the school year helps you to empathize with them and be more prepared to help them through this transition.  

Have questions? The team at Pawp is available 24/7 to help with all things behavior, health, and nutrition.

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