The lazy days of summer are almost over, and suddenly your pet is about to be all alone in a quiet house without their favorite humans. As you and your family prepare to head back to school and work, remember that the new routine and more time alone can be hard on your pet. Our team at Alpine Animal Hospital answers common pet owner questions to help you make the back-to-school transition smoother. 

Question: How long will my pet take to adjust to the new routines?

Answer: Every pet is different, but the more time they can take easing into new routines, the better. Your pet will have an easier time adjusting and you cause them less stress and anxiety if you introduce the forthcoming routines gradually, over several weeks. Take these steps before the school year begins:

  • Wake up earlier — Practice your morning routine of getting ready for school and work. Set the alarm for a typical morning, get ready for the day, and leave the house—you need only leave for a few minutes—to help your pet get comfortable with the new, more structured routine.
  • Increase your pet’s time alone — During the summer, your pet has likely enjoyed a flexible schedule, constant companionship, and excitement and stimulation,  and they will feel stressed and anxious when suddenly left alone. Ease your pet into being alone by leaving the house for short periods, slowly increasing the time you are gone. If you’re worried about your pet’s behavior when you’re away, consider installing a pet camera. This will allow you to take measure of any separation anxiety or other problems, and address the issues before the school year begins. The Alpine Animal Hospital team can help address your pet’s separation anxiety. 
  • Adjust meal times and bathroom breaks — When your family’s schedule changes, so does your pet’s. Start feeding and walking your pet at the times of the new school routine. 

How can I prevent boredom in my pet?

A: When the house is empty, and your pet is home alone, they can easily become bored, and boredom can lead to destructive behavior. Ensure your pet is mentally stimulated while you’re away. 

  • Leave toys around the house — Scatter your pet’s favorite toys around the house for them to find throughout the day. Switch up the toys and put them in different places each day. Your pet will enjoy the variety and the hunt.  
  • Provide a view — Many pets enjoy looking out the window to pass the time, so give them window access to keep them entertained—but only if they do not vocalize too much.
  • Add background noise — Your pet is used to the familiar sounds of people at home, and can be discomforted by the silence when they are home alone, so play calming music or leave on the television for background noise. Some channels provide entertainment for pets, and you should experiment to find your pet’s preferred shows. 
  • Provide tasty treats — Fill a Kong toy with something delicious, such as xylitol-free peanut butter or banana slices, freeze overnight, and treat your pet in the morning, which will help distract them when you leave, and keep them busy while you’re away. 

Q: How long is too long to leave my pet?

A: The amount of time a pet can comfortably stay home alone depends on their age, personality, and health. 

  • Dogs — In general, dogs need to relieve themselves every four to six hours, and puppies or dogs with urinary problems will need more frequent breaks. 
  • Cats —  Adult cats generally can be alone for up to 24 hours, as long as they have access to food and water. 

If your pet is going to be home alone for long time periods, you may want to consider doggy daycare, hiring a dog walker, or asking a friend or family member to check on them during the day. 

Q: How can I leave without my pet getting upset?

A: You may be tempted to shower your pet with extra kisses before heading out the door, but such over-the-top behavior will likely make them more anxious. Keep your comings and goings low-key, and wait for a few minutes after you get home before greeting your pet—hard as that may be. Your pet may mirror your nonchalant attitude and stay calm. 

Q: How can I ensure my pet gets enough exercise?

A: During the summer, your pet likely enjoyed many walks and play sessions. Now, fitting in your pet’s daily walks will be more challenging, but exercise is one of the best ways to help your pet during this anxious time. Change your pet’s exercise routine to suit your own available time, ideally in the morning before your leave, and in the afternoon once you’re home. 

Getting into the back-to-school rhythm and routines takes time and patience, and some pets may be affected more than others. If your pet is showing separation anxiety signs, such as excessive barking, destructive behaviors, or escape attempts, schedule an appointment with our Alpine Animal Hospital team to discuss treatment options that will alleviate their anxiety—and keep your home undamaged.