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The Back-To-School Blues | Pets

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The Back-To-School Blues
The Back-To-School Blues

It isn’t just children who suffer from the back to school blues—pets can suffer too. After a long, fun summer, an empty house can be a difficult adjustment for pets. Pet Sitters International advises pet owners to become familiar with the signs of pet separation anxiety and how it can be treated.


Pet separation anxiety is a psychological term to describe the stress and anxiety brought on by separation from the primary pet caretaker. This issue can become a serious medical condition, with cases and their accompanying symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Most pet owners are familiar with the more common symptoms, but many may be surprised to learn that the full extent of the symptoms begin before the owner leaves and continues long after their departure.


“Symptoms of anxiety such as whining, panting, salivating and following the owner around begin when the owner is preparing to leave the home,” Dr. Valarie Tynes, DVM and Diplomate American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, said. “Once alone or otherwise separated from their attachment figure, dogs may bark, whine, pant, salivate, eliminate and destroy items. Often times, the items they destroy are the areas surrounding doors and windows, as if the animal is trying to escape or go after their departing owner.”


Even if your pet is exhibiting these behaviors, separation anxiety can be difficult to diagnose.


“There are so many reasons that anxious behavior exists,” Tynes said. “The best way to confirm a diagnosis of separation anxiety is to collect video of the animal after the owner has left.”


Tynes warns that once separation anxiety has been diagnosed, treatment may be very complex and lengthy.


“It depends entirely on the animal, the environment, the severity of the problem and possibly how long the problem has been going on,” Tynes said. “Treatment may include a variety of different anxiety-relieving medications, exercises that teach the dog it is okay to be alone and making departures and arrivals less exciting.”


Tynes advises that pet owners with new pets at home or pets suffering from separation anxiety start with short absences and gradually increase the length of time the animal is left alone. She also encourages all dog owners to leave their dog with a special treat.


“The treat should be something they only get when alone and it should be picked up when the owner returns,” Tynes said. “It can be anything special to the dog but ideally it is something that the dog has to spend time working on such as food balls, tug-a-jugs or stuffed Kong® toys.”


If a pet with separation anxiety engages in destructive behavior while alone, Tynes advises pet owners to refrain from punishing the pet when they return home.


“Punishment causes a dog with separation anxiety to become anxious, both about being alone and by the owner’s return. This intense conflict can seriously worsen the problem,” Tynes said. “Other big mistakes I have seen are people who try confining their dog because of destructive behavior. Confinement teaches dogs to try harder to escape and severely worsens its anxiety.”


Tynes recommends that pet owners contact a veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist immediately if their pet is suffering from separation anxiety. “Don’t wait to seek help,” Tynes said. “Most behavior problems do not simply go away and most worsen with time. The single biggest mistake I see dog owners make is trying to ignore the problem in the hope that it will go away.


Using the professional pet-sitting and dog walking services of Laura's Critter Care makes it possible for pets to continue their daily routines when pet owners are away. A professional pet sitter can help alleviate some of the anxiety and stress that pets exhibit when left alone. 

 Laura Stauffiger is the proprietor of Laura’s Critter Care, LLC, an in your home pet sitting, dog walking and house sitting service that services Erie and Niagara Counties, and is also a member of Pet Sitters International .  For more information visit her website or send an Email. 

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