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Back-to-school blues: Combating pet depression

Summer’s nearly over, and boogie-boards and sunscreen have been traded for backpacks and lunchboxes. If you have kids, the start of a new school year is a familiar routine. For a family pet that has grown accustomed to leisurely hikes, beach trips, and a house full of willing playmates, the transition can trigger a case of the back-to-school blues.

Studies have shown that pets can become depressed when their best friends return to school. Signs of depression in dogs include sluggishness, loss of appetite, disinterest in play, and occasionally behaviors such as excessive barking, raiding the trash, or over-grooming. So, how can you help your pets keep the back-to-school blues at bay? Fortunately, there are simple solutions that can help brighten their mood (and yours) during this transitional period.

Exercise, Exercise, Exercise

Pets, especially younger ones, need exercise—not only to keep their bodies healthy and strong, but to buoy their moods and work off nervous energy that can manifest as stress. Providing your pet with a brief, but regular period of exercise twice a day goes a long way toward reducing boredom, depression, and anxiety.

Editor’s Note: Exercising your flat-faced dog can be a challenge. Here are some tips for safely exercising Brachycephalic breeds like Pugs and Boston Terriers.

Try Staging Rehearsals

If you have the time before the hectic pace of the school year resumes, try a rehearsal run. Leave your pet alone for short periods to give them some space to practice being on their own.

Provide Opportunities for Self-Entertainment
Idle pets, like idle people, often find their way into trouble. To keep your pet occupied in a way that won’t wreck your house, try an innovative toy. A treat-filled toy or a food puzzle can keep pets occupied and out of harm’s away. Also, there are electronic toys to keep both cats and dogs busy while they’re home alone. A treat-stuffed Kong™ toy, a catnip sock, or a Babble Ball™ can provide hours of entertainment, while reducing your pet's separation anxiety.

Set Aside Some Time Just for Your Pet

It’s likely your pets have noticed that they receive less attention when the kids are out of the house or away at college. So, they’ll likely welcome any quality time you can spare. Set aside a portion of the day to focus solely on your pet. For dogs, it could be a morning walk, a game of fetch, or a quick refresher of their obedience commands (with plenty of treats for good behavior). For cats, a game of “chase the laser” or a welcome grooming with their favorite brush might be just what the doctor ordered.

Outsource It

If your budget allows, enlist the help of a dog-walker, pet-sitter, or doggy daycare to give your pets some added attention and exercise. These needn’t be long-term commitments—often a little help during the transition period is all that’s required.

Keep in mind, if your pet shows persistent signs of extreme anxiety—including destructive behavior—schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss medical or behavioral treatment options.

We hope these tips will help ease the back-to-school transition period for you, your family and your pets!


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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