The end of summer is a time of transition. Whether it’s back to school or back to work after vacation, life returns to more normal patterns as we move away from the often very different summer schedules we’ve followed for months.
We think and even talk about how these changes affect us. We don’t think as much about how they can be equally jolting for our pets. But when our lives change, the lives of our pets change as well—without warning or understanding.
By thinking more about our pets schedules, taking action to compensate for seasonal changes and watching for signs of pet distress, we can help make this time of year less troubling for our animals and, ultimately, for us.
Common changes in household schedules as fall approaches include increases in work hours and children returning to school and extracurricular activities. This generally means that people are not at home as much to spend time with pets.
To compensate, I recommend scheduling more time with your pet in the morning or evening, before or after work or school. You can even make time in the middle of the day for a lunch break at home and a check-in with your pet.
I also suggest these easy activities you can structure into your schedule:
Walk your dog. Even if it’s just around the block or down the street, a brisk walk in the morning or evening not only helps your dog work off energy and sleep more regularly, but it also is great exercise that helps prevent weight gain and boredom.
Schedule play time. Throw a ball or a stick, or play together with a favorite toy. A little play, even in a confined space, can have the same benefits for dogs and cats as those mentioned above.
Play while feeding. Use puzzle toys that dispense kibble or treats as part of the feeding plan for your pet. These toys provide rewards for animals when played with or moved. Puzzle toys can break up otherwise boring stretches of the day when pets are alone. But if you are using a puzzle toy as part of your feeding plan, be sure to scale back in other aspects of feeding.
Enhance your cat’s environment. Provide perches, cat castles or other stands so they can climb and reposition themselves through the day, often looking out windows or across rooms.
Provide toys. New pet toys at this time of year are an inexpensive way to keep our pets occupied, happy and less focused on their missing humans.
As daylight hours become shorter, you also may notice that your pet becomes hungrier earlier or is motivated to consume more food. But more calorie intake and less exercise can easily equal weight gain. If your pet exercises less in the fall and into winter, be sure to reduce calorie intake. Keeping your pet fit and lean supports health and longevity and reduces disease risk.
In some cases, an abrupt change in schedule can trigger separation anxiety in dogs. Symptoms include excessive barking, destructiveness and passing stool or urine in the house. Dogs can show signs of separation anxiety as you prepare to leave your home or shortly after you depart.
If you suspect your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, or if you have other health concerns about your pet, please contact your veterinarian. He or she will help you develop a custom treatment plan for your animal and your unique family life.
Dr. Laura Kiehnbaum is a veterinarian at PetCare of Duluth, 2701 W. Superior St., Suite 102, Duluth. You can reach her or ask questions for future columns at info@PetCareofDuluth.com or 218-461-4400. For more information about this subject go to PetCareofDuluth.com.