Dog separation anxiety becomes a common problem for many pet owners when household schedules change such as when children return to school after a long summer vacation or work schedules change. Dogs go from being occupied playing with their pet owners to suddenly being left to their own devices for much of the day. Naturally, this sudden change is stressful, and some dogs do begin to show untypical behaviors brought on by boredom and separation anxiety.
If your own pet shows signs of stress when your children's school schedule resumes, you need to know how to help your dog make the adjustment.
Meet Dr. Bernadine Cruz, DVM
A University of California at Davis graduate, Dr. Bernadine Cruz has been practicing companion animal medicine in Orange County, California for the past 20 years. She was featured on Discovery Channel, Arts and Entertainment and the Home and Garden Television network, she is a member of the Iams Pet Wellness Council, and is one of the hosts for PetCare TV.
Dr. Cruz acts as a multi media consultant for several major veterinary pharmaceutical companies, and is the chair elect for the AVMA's Council on Communications. She also serves on the advisory board for Veterinary News Network.
Dr. Cruz was kind enough to discuss the topic of dogs and back-to-school anxiety with LoveToKnow.
Dog Separation Anxiety: Back to School Blues
LTK: Dr. Cruz, do some dogs really become stressed when the children go back to school and the house routine goes through a major change? If so, why?
Dr. Cruz: Dogs and cats are creatures of habit just like people. However, some are more so than others. Dogs are pack animals, and they take their cues from the pack members that are dominant over them, namely the humans. Their lives orbit around ours. Children have a very special and unique bond with their pets. During summer vacation, a child's whole day may involve feeding, playing and just hanging out with the dog. With the commencement of the school year, the pet may feel lost and abandoned.
LTK: Does canine stress differ from dog depression? If so, how?
Dr. Cruz: Dog depression and stress can be very similar with depression leading to stress. Depression is more of an anthropomorphic term when referring to a dog. Dog depression is typically considered to be characterized as having low spirits, being gloomy or having a feeling of sadness. Stress is a physiological entity measured by an elevation of blood pressure, an increase in the release of cortisol (a stress hormone), and other physiological changes.
Coping with Dog Anxiety Symptoms
LTK: What are some dog anxiety symptoms to watch out for in our pets?
Dr. Cruz: Changes to watch for can range from loss of appetite, excessive whining, increased barking and destruction of furnishings in the home to self-trauma such as excessive licking of a paw or other body parts. Occasionally, a pet may demonstrate vomiting or diarrhea. A dog may even become very reclusive and not want to interact with the family. If dog anxiety symptoms persist more than a few days or worsen, take the pet to a veterinarian for a thorough examination.
LTK: What can we do to help our dogs make the adjustment back to a regular school schedule?
Dr. Cruz: You can attempt to avert separation anxiety by having the family insure that the dog has some periodic alone time. These periods may gradually lengthen in duration as the school year approaches. Offering interactive dog toys that randomly dispense food treats is another great way to occupy a dog's time until the final bell rings.
LTK: Is medication ever necessary to overcome separation anxiety symptoms?
Dr. Cruz: Medication may be required depending on the severity of the symptoms. There are varieties of herbal and traditional pharmacological agents that the veterinarian may recommend or prescribe.
LTK: Is there anything we should do differently during summer vacation to prevent anxiety and depression in our pets once fall rolls around?
Dr. Cruz: Try to teach dogs to be independent. They don't always have to have their humans around. Provide alone time of various lengths at different times of the day. Be sure they have toys that can occupy their time.
My Pet Care TV
LTK: Dr. Cruz, tell us a bit about your other project, My Pet Care TV.
Dr. Cruz: MyPetCareTV.com is a veterinary supervised, online community for pet owners where they can brag about their pets, access veterinary approved educational material regarding pet care and find useful links to a myriad of animal-related topics. You could say it's the Facebook for pets. Membership is free, and members can create forums and groups and even set up a blog. It's all pets and pet owners all the time.
LoveToknow would like to thank Dr. Cruz for sharing her time and knowledge. If you'd like to learn more about dog separation anxiety and other pet health related topics, you can catch pod casts of Dr. Cruz's Internet radio show, The Pet Doctor as heard on PetLifeRadio.com.