How old is your pet in human years?

Is your pet now home alone?

During the summer months, no doubt it felt great to be able to get out of the house without having to think about boots, coats, scarves, mitts, and hats. Your kids were able to play outside and with the extended daylight hours, the fun never seemed to end. If you have a dog, your pet was running around with them; a cat might have spent the sunny days curiously observing the antics. Your family and your pets are part of each other’s lives.

But summer vacation eventually comes to an end, and family members head back to school and to work. And you’re all ready for this transition. You know that your schedule and routine are about to change. The rhythm of the household won’t be the same. Now, in the morning, you all leave and don’t get back home until much later.

When things go back to “normal”, how will your pet react to your absence? Will it affect them at all? What will they do during the day?

We asked veterinarian, Mélanie Dickinson, from Hôpital Vétérinaire de Montréal, these questions, and others. She told us that both dogs and cats might start showing signs of stress right away. For example, your dog may manifest concern by a constant, sort-of coming and going… and by getting vocal about the situation (strong enough that your neighbours could very well hear it). A dog might start destroying furniture or other objects… and even creating other types of messes (we’re sure you can imagine).

Cats may exhibit less dramatic, more subtle, behaviour, but they will react. For instance, a cat will sleep more often and won’t be as active or interactive. Your cat may even lose their appetite, to the point where they stop eating altogether. Nervousness can be another manifestation. A cat might develop self-destructive behaviour like extreme grooming, tearing at their fur, or causing themselves injury. However, this type of behaviour is not very common and usually indicates a medical problem.

Change can be tough for anyone—humans and animals alike.

In some cases, you can make the change in routine a little easier.

“When you know change, such as back-to-school, is coming, you can ease your dog or cat into more and more alone time over a day or so,” says Dr. Dickinson. Dr. Dickinson advises short trips to restore routine and help your pet adapt to what will, very soon, become the new norm. “That said,” Dr. Dickinson adds, “even if the change occurs overnight, with no preparation, you can still help your pet adapt and find their happy place”.

When you leave the house in the morning and you know that your pet will be alone, Dr. Dickinson suggests providing your cat or dog with interactive toys. For example, balls with treats or a bit of food tucked inside that they have to work to get at. “The idea is to make it just as much fun for your pet to be alone as it is to have you around.” Dr. Dickinson also suggests increasing exercise time with your dog before you leave the house. This is the perfect time for a nice long morning walk. Dr. Dickinson also thinks it’s important to reserve some time with your pet when you get back home; to play together to maintain your bond. And this is true for both dogs and cats.

Extreme anxiety

If, despite your best efforts, you see that your pet is suffering from extreme anxiety, your veterinarian can recommend temporary medication to calm them down. This way, they can smoothly adapt to the household’s new routine.

According to Dr. Dickinson, there’s also another solution to make the transition a little easier: have your pet stay at a daycare during the day, especially a dog. In general, cats don’t like moving to another place for the day. But dogs are a different story. “They’ll be able to interact and play with others. They will be mentally stimulated, they’ll get exercise and their stress level will fall.” Owners don’t always have the financial means to send their dog or cat to a daycare every day. But it’s not really necessary to make this an everyday thing. According to Dr. Dickinson, “Often, one or two days of activity at a daycare are enough at the beginning of the change in routine. Then, after a little while, your pet won’t need the daycare at all.”

Once your pet’s stress level has fallen and they feel reassured, especially with their toys around them, they’ll be able to get along on their own in the house in solitude. No mess. No incidents. No complaints from the neighbours. But of course, they will always be happy to see you come back home to play!