Pets Get Depressed When Students Return to School

 |  Sep 21st 2007  |   0 Contributions

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Dog's got the back-to-school blues
Pets can get down when their favorite people spend time away

Its not unusual for dogs and sometimes cats to go into a funk when the kids go back to school in the fall or off to college for the first time.

By Kim Campbell Thornton
MSNBC contributor

Daniel and Luke were inseparable. The best friends spent the summer outdoors, playing ball and tag, and going inside for a snack from Daniel's mom when they got hot and hungry. But when Daniel, now 11, started back to school a couple years ago, Luke had to stay behind.

That puppy was depressed!" says Daniels mother, Ginny Guidry, of Spring Valley, Calif. He was only 4 months old when Daniel first went back to school. At first he just laid around, but after he figured out the program Daniels leave time and return time he seemed to perk up."

Its not unusual for dogs and sometimes cats to go into a funk when the kids go back to school in the fall or off to college for the first time. They may even mope around when your work schedule changes.

When we got Darcy as a puppy, my husband, Jerry, and I were working at home all the time, so she was used to plenty of attention from both of us. A few months later, Jerry began traveling extensively for work and Darcys life was turned upside down. Jerry would leave in the morning and shed lie at the top of the stairs for hours, waiting for him to come back.

She followed her to school one day...
Some dogs take their unhappiness with separation to extremes. Our Old English Sheepdog, Sugar, used to jump our stucco wall and follow me to school when I was in the sixth grade. Shed show up at the classroom door and refuse to leave until my mother came to get her. Thats not an unusual problem with protective dogs such as the herding breeds, who view kids as part of their flock."

Cats can be quite emotionally attached to caregivers, too, and become distressed when their normal routine is interrupted.

Preventing separation anxiety
Help stave off separation anxiety by teaching your pets how to comfortably spend time alone:

Leave the room or the house for brief periods, gradually extending the length of time before you return. They learn that youll always come back.
Keep departures and greetings matter-of-fact so that your absence doesnt seem like a big deal.
Have them perform a command, such as sit (cats can do this, too), and give a treat before you leave. They might even start to look forward to your departure!

Part of that emotional attachment is a behavioral expectation that the two are going to do something predictable," says John C. Wright, an animal behaviorist and professor of psychology at Mercer University in Macon, Ga. Its important to the cat on a daily basis. So you have a disruption in daily routine when someone leaves for school, a disruption in the emotional security the cat has, and that can result in both emotional and behavioral depression."

With emotional depression, the cat appears to be distraught and may vocalize more than usual, Wright says. Signs of behavioral depression range from lethargy the cat tends to sleep longer, especially during those times when its used to interacting with the person whos gone to hyperactivity.

Beating the blues
Whats the cure for depressed dogs and cats?

Lots of exercise can help dogs, says animal behaviorist Mary Lee Nitschke, a professor of psychology at Linfield College in Portland, Ore.

The more physical exercise, the more endorphin release you can provide, and thats all good," she says, referring to feel-good chemicals in the brain.

Its also important to remember that your dog feeds on your own emotional state. If youre depressed about your child going off to college, your dog will sense that.

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