Pets get school blues, too

Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Perhaps there's a reason the dog ate your home work. With children returning to school, there are bound to be plenty of pets suffering back-to-school blues.

Dogs and cats are creatures of habit and can become overly attached to children home for the summer thanks to hours spent romping, playing ball, going for walks and just hanging out.

When that routine is shattered at the beginning of the school year, separation anxiety often ensues., a newly-launched, community-based Web site for pet owners and veterinary clinics in Bluffton, S.C., has advice for adjusting.

Dr. Bernadine Cruz, one of the veterinarians, said signs of separation anxiety for a dog can range from refusal to eat to excessive barking and chewing up clothing, shoes, toys or furnishings.

Severe cases of separation anxiety are similar to panic attacks. Some pets may experience vomiting and diarrhea, often coupled with constant pacing and whining.

Dogs have been known to destroy baseboards, chew through doors and break through windows in their attempts to reunite with their owners.

"However, concerns over potential separation anxiety should not deter children and caregivers from forming strong attachments with their pets," he said.

By doing their homework, pet owners can help lessen pets' anxieties. He offers these tips:

* Start with good-bye.

Don't make a big deal out of coming or going. Don't fuss over the dog.

* Give it a specially designed toy stuffed with bits of kibble, bits of rice cakes or peanut butter.

Your dog will be so intent in getting all the goodies out of the toy, it will be some time before your absence is even noticed.

When you return home, don't smoother your dog with attention. Go about your routine for several minutes before giving your pet lots of affection.

* Vary your routine.

Collect all of your school books or your jacket and car keys and then put them down. Your dog will initially think that you are going to leave only to find that you are staying home.

* Become a drill sergeant.

Reinforce basic behaviors such as "come," "sit" and "stay."

Make your dog work for attention or food. Make it sit and stay before it gets anything. This helps the pet to realize that it works for you.

* Ensure safety in surroundings.

A dog's ancestors were den-dwelling animals. A crate is not a cruel-and-unusual punishment; in fact, dogs can feel very secure in a crate but should not be confined in one for more than four to five hours.

If you need to be gone for longer than five hours, have a neighbor or pet sitter come and let the pet out to stretch its legs.

You also can make one room in your home a safe haven, with a comfy bed, food and water. Care needs to be exercised to ensure that your dog cannot injure itself or damage the room.

* Keep pets active.

Lots of exercise will keep your pet healthy and tired. It is harder for a pooped pup to get into trouble.

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