Back-to-School Blues: Battling Separation Anxiety in Pets

Children and their loyal companions alike tend to dread Back-to-School Night. Signifying the end of summer and the start of the new school year, meeting the teacher for the next grade level can be a sad event. And, with all the hustle and bustle surrounding the upcoming first day of school, pets often receive less attention and easily become stressed, especially if they have separation anxiety issues. After the fun of summer is over, the house can become an empty, lonely place, which can lead to anxiety for a family-oriented pet.


Signs of separation anxiety

Depending on the severity of your pet’s anxiety, separation anxiety can manifest in different ways. Some signs—especially in less extreme cases—may not be noticeable to you or other family members, since your pet is typically home alone when they occur. Other signs, however, might be apparent before you even walk out the door.

To detect the less obvious signs of separation anxiety, you can set up a video recording system in the area where your pet spends most of her time. Once these signs are caught on camera, your veterinarian can determine whether it is truly separation anxiety or some other behavioral issue causing your pet’s actions.

Signs of separation anxiety include:

  • Not eating or drinking while alone
  • Clinging to your side while at home
  • Waiting outside closed doors for you (usually whining)
  • Howling, whining, or barking
  • Digging and scratching
  • Chewing on furniture or belongings
  • Inappropriate elimination (only occurs when your pet is home alone)
  • Pacing
  • Restlessness
  • Attempting to escape

Although more common in dogs, cats can also suffer from separation anxiety. Trembling, hiding, trying to escape, loss of appetite, change in mood, and diarrhea are some signs your cat might exhibit if she’s having a tough time being home alone.

Coping with separation anxiety

Depending on the severity, separation anxiety can be quite difficult to manage. In most cases, a multimodal approach is required to alleviate your pet’s stress while home alone. Ways to help your pet cope with an empty house include:

  • Treat puzzles — Stuff a Kong with peanut butter or utilize a treat puzzle to keep your pet occupied following your departure. Break these special treats or toys out only when you leave, so your pet learns to associate something positive (the delicious treat or special toy) with your absence.
  • Increased exercise — Many behavioral issues stem from boredom. Play a game or take a quick run in the morning before leaving to benefit both you and your dog.
  • Pheromone therapy — Species-specific calming pheromones are available for cats and dogs in a variety of delivery systems. These sprays, diffusers, collars, and wipes can help your pet relax.
  • Behavioral supplements — With such a wide array of supplements readily available, you may have to try products with several different ingredients to find what works best for your pet. Ask your veterinarian for quality recommendations.
  • Calming wraps — Using gently applied pressure, Thundershirts and other similar products can keep a pet calm during stressful situations. You can create your own calming wrap at home as well.
  • Anti-anxiety medication — If your pet is severely stressed, medication may be warranted to keep her safe. Call us if your pet’s anxiety seems unmanageable.
  • Doggy daycare — Maybe your dog would love a playdate. Find a reputable daycare facility to provide your pet with companionship and exercise throughout the day.
  • Pet sitter — Taking a couple of quick walks with a pet sitter can help to break up the loneliness of the day and may make a difference for your pet’s anxiety levels.
  • Behavioral training — Hire a certified behaviorist or trainer to help your pet learn coping skills to deal with all sorts of behavioral issues that are linked to anxiety.


Most of the above canine-friendly options work for cats as well. Provide your cat with entertainment throughout the day by placing a bird feeder outside a favorite window, using treat puzzles or toys, and placing cat trees or scratching posts in various areas of your home.

Separation anxiety doesn’t have to ruin your relationship with your furry pal. With patience and a little trial-and-error, the condition can be managed. If your pet is struggling to overcome the back-to-school blues, let us help. Call our office at 662-253-0274.