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Summer's Over: Will Your Pets Miss the Kids

By: Alex Lieber

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Another school year is just around the corner – parents celebrate and children shudder. But what about the pets? After a summer of being spoiled with attention, they suddenly have to go cold turkey as children go to school and parents go off to work.

Do you feel guilty leaving them behind? If so, you're not alone. More than 75 percent of people surveyed feel guilty for leaving their pets to go to work or school (source: the American Animal Hospital Association). Pets are part of the family, and who wants to think that a family member is sitting home, lonely and forlorn?

Most of the time, a pet is fine until someone comes home, as long as their needs have been met: fresh water, clean litter box (if a cat), or walked (if a dog), their meal. If leaving a pet does cause behavior problems, there are some strategies you can try to minimize the stress of being away.

One way is to get your pets used to the new schedule. When leaving the house, try to depart at the same time each day. When leaving, don't gush an elaborate farewell. Pets react to your emotions. If you're calm when leaving, your pet is more likely to be calm as well. Making a scene only makes your pet more anxious.

A Pet's Pet

Some guilt-wracked people rush out to get another pet to keep the resident one company. Beware! The intentions are good, but has anyone considered the pet's opinion? For cats, the sudden addition of another cat is a lot of stress – a lot more stress than simply napping until one of the kids comes home. For dogs, another canine may be the last thing they want because now they have to sort out who's going to be the top dog.

In both cases, the result can be an unwanted intruder, raging warfare, clawed or chewed furniture, urine markings or worse ... and two very unhappy pets (not to mention the owners). Your best bet is to get two pets at the same time. This way they can grow up together before they develop any prejudices toward their own kind or another species (i.e., a puppy and a kitten). The household is "claimed" together, so they are less likely to become territorial.

If you still want to add a pet to the household, learn how to introduce cats. If you are bringing in a new canine, you may want to read the article How Many Are Too Many and dog and cat introductions to learn how these different species can bond.

You may be concerned that your dog is not housebroken or that he's still too rambunctious when left alone. Some dogs will bark or become destructive if bored. If so, consider getting a roomy crate or a baby fence to keep him in an enclosed area. A crate or kennel can be a retreat for your dog, especially if you line it with material that has your scent on it. To learn more about the finer points of crate training, see Crate Training Your Puppy.

You may also consider doggie daycare, one of the newest trends in the world of pets. Doggie daycare facilities are opening up all over the country. Dogs get exercise, grooming, playtime, even a "spa" in some cases. Some daycares permit even-tempered, obedient dogs to play together; others do not. Some facilities also take in cats. However, cats are usually better off at home when the kids are in school. Another option is hire someone to visit your pets in the middle of the day. They keep the cat company or walk the dog for an hour.

Separation Anxiety

It's possible for pets to become too attached to family members. This is beyond the normal yearning for the return of a playmate. These animals go into a state of panic when left alone. This behavior is called separation anxiety, and it can affect dogs and cats. It is different from behavior that comes from simple boredom.

Dogs may become destructive, soil the house, bark or whine constantly (this is different from barking in response to something specific, like the mail carrier). Cats manifest this behavior by crying when left alone; house soiling; and excessive hair pulling.

Both show excessive joy upon the owner's return. Learn more about this behavior in dogs by reading Separation Anxiety. In cats, you can read about separation anxiety in Introduction to Feline Fears.

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