Summer is coming to an end, and your children will be returning to the classroom soon. Back-to-school time requires a lot of planning and preparation, and you also should make plans to keep your pet safe when the school year starts. Our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital wants to provide information about what dangers your pet can face during this hectic time.
Your pet is at risk for separation anxiety
Separation anxiety is a serious condition that can significantly affect your pet’s quality of life. If your pet has gotten used to you and your children being home all day, suddenly being left alone can trigger separation anxiety. Signs include vocalizing excessively, becoming agitated as family members are preparing to leave, exhibiting destructive behavior, and urinating or defecating inappropriately. Tips to prevent separation anxiety include:
- Crate train your pet — Before the school year starts, teach your pet to enjoy being by themselves. Crate training is a great way to encourage your pet to spend time alone, and they often will come to view the crate as a safe zone. Start by leaving the crate door open, and letting your pet explore the new area. Once they are comfortable with the crate, place bedding, toys, and clothing that you’ve worn recently inside the crate. Put your pet inside the crate and offer them a food puzzle toy. Once they are distracted, leave the room. Gradually increase the time you spend away from your pet so they won’t be upset when your family leaves on a school day.
- Practice your school routine — Transitioning to a school day routine is difficult, and starting several weeks in advance can help your pet and your family adjust. Set your alarm clock to wake up for a regular school day, and get everyone up and moving. Start feeding your pet when you would during the school day, ensuring you allow enough time to take them on a bathroom break before leaving for the day.
- Don’t be dramatic — When saying goodbye or greeting your pet, don’t fuss over them. Your pet perceives emotional displays as a reason to be anxious, so make your departures and returns calm and low key.
- Exercise your pet — Ensure your pet gets adequate exercise every day, and provide a strenuous exercise session before you leave for the day to ensure they are ready for a nap.
- Provide mental stimulation — Environmental enrichment is important to keep your pet mentally stimulated. Ensure your pet has interactive toys to keep them occupied, and, if possible, have a friend or pet sitter stop by to provide a midday play session.
If your pet exhibits separation anxiety signs, have them evaluated by a veterinarian. This condition may require help from a behavioral specialist, and medications are sometimes necessary to control the problem.
Your pet is at risk from your child’s lunch box
Packing a lunch box is usually a healthier option for your child, but the contents can be dangerous for your pet. Risky foods include:
- Grapes — Grapes and raisins are a lunch box staple, but these healthy snacks contain a toxin that causes kidney failure in dogs.
- Chocolate — Every kid loves to find chocolate in their lunch box, but this sweet treat contains caffeine and theobromine, which cause central nervous system stimulation in pets.
- Xylitol — Xylitol is used frequently in sugar-free candies and gum, and can cause severe hypoglycemia in pets.
- Cold packs — Cold packs are great to keep your child’s sandwich fresh, but some contain ethylene glycol or ammonium nitrate, which are extremely dangerous for your pet if they ingest the contents.
- Leftovers — Apple cores and empty plastic bags left over from your child’s lunch can be ingested by your pet, leading to a gastrointestinal blockage.
Ensure your pet can’t get to your child’s lunch box before they leave for school, and have your child empty their lunch box at school or in a safe location as soon as they get home.
Your pet is at risk from your child’s backpack
Children frequently dump their backpack in a convenient location as soon as they get home from school. This interesting treasure trove can be tempting for a curious pet. Risks include:
- Asthma inhalers — Asthma inhalers usually contain beta-agonist drugs and steroids. If a pet chews and punctures an inhaler, they can receive several drug doses, causing problems such as arrhythmias, vomiting, collapse, and potential death.
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications — ADHD medications are stimulants, and cause agitation, high heart rates, high blood pressure, tremors, and seizures in pets.
- Small objects — Any small object, such as an eraser, marble, or paper clip, can be swallowed, causing a gastrointestinal obstruction.
- Art supplies — Choose art supplies that have an approved product (AP) label to ensure they are safe for your child and your pet.
As your children prepare to return to school, take steps to protect your pet. If you think your pet is affected by separation anxiety, contact our Fear Free team at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital so we can help alleviate their distress.