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Pets and the back-to-school blues

Summer is drawing to a close, and if you’re a parent, you’ve probably already started the daunting process of back-to-school shopping. But have you thought about the emotional effects that the new family timetable will have on your pets?

All summer, your animals have grown accustomed to a more relaxed schedule and the constant companionship of your kids. The sudden return to the school-year schedule could spawn a bad case of the blues among even the most cheerful of your furry friends.

Learn the Signs of Depression in Pets

Like humans, our pets are creatures of habit. And while most adapt well to changes in the family routine, some struggle with depression or separation anxiety when it’s time for the kids to return to school. Some animals may become sullen, while others may act out by destroying furniture, drapes, or your favorite slippers. Spotting depression in pets can be tricky unless you know what to look for: loss of appetite, listlessness, boredom, excessive vocalizing, and toileting issues. These can all be signals that you pet is sad, lonely, resentful, or just plain bored. If you see these symptoms in your pet, there are some tactics you can try.

Tips For Pet Depression

Try practice runs. Before the official start of school, try a few practice runs: Suit up the kids and leave the house at school time. No, you don’t have to stay out until afternoon, but the dry runs will signal to your pets that a change is coming. It will allow them some time to re-adapt to being on their own during the school day.

Re-establish a routine. During the summer, your pets may have been a little spoiled. Maybe they got extra treats or walks to the park on demand. Whatever the case, back-to-school season is the time to reacquaint your furry friends with the school-year routine. For dogs, this means a return to a set walk schedule, and likely more on-the-leash time. For cats, it means food bowls may only get filled twice a day, and that they’ll have more unsupervised time to be, well, cats. Setting simple boundaries and schedules now can avoid troublesome transitions later.

Emphasize exercise. The back-to-school routine will likely leave your pets with some energy to burn. This may manifest as destructive behavior or fighting with other household pets, especially if your pet suffers from separation anxiety. One great way to help your pet work off the excess energy is through exercise. Find what safe activities your pet enjoys and build an exercise routine from there. For dogs, this might mean setting aside time for a daily game of Frisbee on the lawn or a jog with your pet through the park. For cats, it could mean purchasing a new feather teaser or scratching post.

Try some interactive toys. For pets that are going to spend much of their day unsupervised, you may want to try one of the many interactive toys on the market. Puzzle toys, treat toys, and ball launchers can provide bored pets with the stimulation and play they need to stave off depression or anxiety when you and the kids are away from home. While exercising your dog is important for keeping his body fit and healthy, there are ways to keep his mind active too. So, try challenging his mind with a few brain games for dogs.

Set aside some cuddle time. There’s no substitute for love and attention: When you’re able, set aside some time each day for some cuddles or rough-housing with your pet. This will not only help ease any boredom, sadness, and worry that your pet may be experiencing—it will also help you chill out at the end of a long day. Cuddling with a beloved pet lowers blood pressure, decreases pulse rate, and increases serotonin production in humans. So, a little cuddle time actually benefits both you and your pet!

Editor’s Note: As a pet parent on-the-go, these mobile apps can help you find a unique pet adventure and nearby pet-friendly locations and activities.


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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