Helping Pets Adjust to the Back-to-School Routine: Tips for Preventing Separation Anxiety

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Children returning to school can leave pets feeling lonely by themselves

● Eight out of ten dogs are vulnerable to ‘separation anxiety’ says RSPCA

● Training and treats can help keep your pet happy, says Pet Hamper

The transition from summer to autumn can often be a confusing and unhappy time for family pets. When the kids return to school, it marks the sudden end to long, magical days of play and attention around the clock, replaced by an empty house and cold, dark evenings.

Through its mission to help make pets happier throughout the UK and beyond, the team at Pet Hamper has published its top tips for helping your family’s animals acclimatise to their new routines.

Who is Pet Hamper?

Pet Hamper, launched in 2020, is the team behind thousands of happy pets around the UK and beyond. The business stocks delicious pet treats and premium quality toys which have been hand-picked from suppliers around the world.

After becoming an online and social media hit, the business opened its first physical store earlier this year.

Pet Hamper has also partnered with brands such as Vodafone, Animal Friends Pet Insurance and the five-star Prince Akatoki Hotel in London to help spread the joy to even more pets and pet owners.

Why pets feel lonely

The RSPCA says that eight out of ten dogs struggle with Separation-Related Behaviour (SRB), which occurs when a dog feels distressed due to being left alone.

Some of the main signs that a dog didn’t cope while you were away include:

● Destructive behaviour, including damage to doors and windows

● Howling, barking, wining, toileting and even vomiting

● Signs of anxiety before you leave and excessive excitement when you return

It can be heart-breaking for owners to see these signs in their pets, but the good news is that anxiety is very often preventable by taking steps in advance of major changes to routine, and ensuring your pet is entertained while you are away.

Mark Jackson, co-founder of pet supplies retailer Pet Hamper, says: “The school holidays are a great time for kids and pets alike, it’s when they get to play together and bond the most. But as children go back to school and are reunited with old friends and kept busy in the classroom, a dog can suffer if suddenly left alone without the tools to cope.

“Fortunately, there are many actions that a family can take to keep their pets happy and entertained, and to reduce the stresses of dramatic changes to daily life.”

Pet Hamper’s top tips for keeping pets happy when they’re home alone

Make a new, pet-friendly routine

A return to school may mean that your family has less free time, but don’t forget your pet’s wants and needs. Make time before or after school, for example, for regular walks to ensure that your pet is still getting the exercise and bonding time they need.

An early morning walk with your dog, or playtime with your cat, starts the day off on a positive note and helps prepare them for the day ahead.

Start the new routine early

A sudden change in routine can be unsettling, but you can ease your pet in gradually by making small changes. For example, if you need to change the time of a regular walk, do so by 15 minutes at a time.

You can also prepare your pet for spending time alone by introducing the idea when you’re still at home. Encourage your pet to spend time by itself in a separate room, starting with short breaks and building up to longer periods of time alone.

Use toys as an incentive and treats as a reward.

Top tip: Toys like the Bolt Bite, Twist Toss, and Tennis Tumble are specifically designed to beat boredom in your pets. Despite their simple designs, they behave unpredictably and provide endless solo play fun.

Take care on dark nights

With the house empty during the day, you may be required to take your dog for their walks in the evening, even as it becomes colder and darker than before.

This, too, can be a major adjustment for your pet and they may be more easily startled, so it is best to keep them on their lead at all times.

You and your dog should both wear highly visible, even reflective clothing. Don’t forget to wrap up warm, and the same for your dog if it’s a smaller breed that requires it.

Bring a torch on your walk to ensure that you can both see the way, and try to stick to routine walks as your dog will appreciate the familiarity.

You’ll also need to keep a closer eye on the environment come autumn. Conkers, acorns, mushrooms and other nasties hidden within piles of leaves can all cause harm to your dog if they try to eat them.

Ensure your dog isn’t overstimulated by what’s going on outside

The anxiety caused by an empty house can be exacerbated when there’s a lot going on outside. This can be reduced by closing the curtains or leaving music playing. And if you’re going to be home after dark, don’t forget to leave the lights on – or at least put them on a timer.

On the other hand, if you have a view of nature from a window, this can be a positive for pet cats. Ensure they have a safe place to perch where they can watch wildlife.

Top tip: Slow feeders are a fun way to serve treats for both dogs and cats and has been shown to reduce anxiety, boredom and destructive behaviour. Fill it up in the morning, and your pet will then be content in the knowledge that it can then feed itself throughout the day.

But keep your pet stimulated by ensuring it has plenty to do

Your pet will find it easier to pass time alone if given toys to play with. Pet Hamper has a great selection of items designed specifically to challenge your pet’s mind.

You’ll get the most benefit out of this tactic if you change the selection of toys you leave out, as your pet will appreciate the variety from day to day.

Classical music helps reduce stress, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, while cats enjoy watching nature programmes on TV.

Top tip: Our modern treat puzzles and dog treat filler toys help stimulate your dog’s mind, and rewards them with treats throughout the day. We have a wide range of treats for cats, dogs and puppies which have been formulated to provide all the nutrition they need.

Keep your dog well-groomed

As the temperature dips, your dog will grow a thicker coat. While this is useful in helping to keep your pet warm, it can also become a haven for bugs and bacteria and cause skin infections. Brush your pet more regularly to avoid any matting and to keep them snuggly, clean and warm.

Top tip: Pet Hamper stocks a range of grooming products for both dogs and cats, including balms, brushes and shampoos designed exclusively to keep pets happy and healthy.

Be kind to your pet

If you return home to find your dog upset, or even if it makes a mess, remember that your dog is just confused and afraid.

Don’t show anger, don’t punish your pet, and don’t assume that your pet will get over the stress by itself. These will only make things worse and, warns the RSPCA, flood your dog with stress hormones that can cause negative, long-term effects on your dog’s body and mental state.

If your dog struggles to cope even with these tactics, take them to the vet who may be able to refer them to a specialist.

Make a fuss of your pet when you’re home

At school and work, you and your kids will have enjoyed a busy day full of activities and interaction, but your pet will have had much less of these than usual. To help make up for this, make sure to spend time with them when you get home, and use your free time – such as weekends – to plan activities together.

Mark Jackson, co-founder of pet supplies retailer Pet Hamper, says: “It is inevitable that routines will have to change throughout the year, but we understand our pets today more than ever before and there are plenty of actions we can take to reduce the stress this causes to our animals.

“Experts around the world are continually developing new and innovative treats, toys and other products to keep our dogs and cats healthy and happy. By understanding your pet’s wants and needs and making some small adjustments, it’s possible to keep our pets happy and fulfilled.”

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