How to Prevent Back-to-School Blues in Pets

By: Brianna Gunter | Updated Aug 29, 2023

Back-to-school time is upon us, and while that can bring some welcome peace and quiet for parents who work from home, it’s a different story for dogs and cats. Pets accustomed to being around children may suddenly face long days of waiting and loneliness, resulting in anxiety that humans may not see. This stress can go double for animals in families with both teachers and students.


Brown pit bull dog waiting by a window.


Fortunately, the Pet Parenting team has your back with 9 tips for helping dogs and cats cope with back-to-school season stress and adapt to the changes in their routine.

9 tips to make back-to-school time easier on pets

This can be a busy time of year for many families, especially those with elementary school-aged children. However, it's important to keep pets in mind and prevent their needs from getting lost in the mix. Following these simple tips can help ease pet anxiety with schedule changes and make the transition smoother for everyoine.

1. Understand your pet’s feelings

Our furry friends are creatures of habit. Most dogs and cats thrive on routine, and they can become easily stressed when that routine is disrupted. They don’t understand what’s happening at back-to-school time or why the house is suddenly empty for the better part of the day. It’s important for us humans to take their perspective into consideration and do what we can to ease pet anxieties in non-verbal ways.

Signs of pet separation anxiety

Not sure how your pet’s feeling while his humans are away? Both dogs and cats can suffer from separation anxiety, but they can be good at hiding it. Here are some signs to look for:

  • High-pitched whining or crying
  • Pacing
  • Chewing/clawing furniture or personal belongings
  • Urinating in inappropriate places
  • Exhaustion (i.e. returning home to find a pet without much energy)

2. Include pets in the new routine

Do you walk with your kids to the bus stop or drive them to school? Consider bringing your dog along. He’ll feel more included, not to mention get some bonus time with the family. Sure, mornings can be hectic. But setting aside a little time every day to cuddle or play with dogs and cats before everyone leaves can help pets feel less anxious. The additional attention may also help tire your furry friend out early, so she’ll be ready for a snooze once the house is quiet.

If the school year hasn’t started for you quite yet, it’s a good idea to try easing your pet into the new routine early on. Practice by leaving your pet alone for an hour or two each day, gradually extending the amount of time until school officially kicks off.


Cat peaking out from a corner in a house.


3. Stick to your routine

Things happen, and everyone needs to shake up their daily routine once in a while. But for your pet’s sake, try your best to stick with the new pattern. If you start the school season by walking your pal with the kids to the bus stop, keep it up for the rest of the year.

It’s also important to try to keep as much of the old routine as possible. If you feed kitty breakfast at a certain time every morning all summer, stick with that time once school starts. Consider an automatic feeder if it’s after everyone has to leave for the day or interferes with getting ready in the morning.

4. Provide pets with mental stimulation during school hours

One of the main contributing factors of pet separation anxiety during the school year is loneliness, which is worsened by boredom. Similar to humans, your pet’s mind needs to be engaged in order to be content. Make sure there’s at least one unobstructed window to look out of, and consider leaving the TV on if it’s something your pal has been intrigued by in the past.

You may also want to get a treat puzzle toy that you can load up just before everyone leaves for the day. This will keep both dogs and cats busy for at least a little while as they figure out how to get the treats out, and they’ll get a tasty reward once they do.

Social animals may also enjoy scheduled playdates during the daytime. If you have a pup who really enjoys being around other canines, enrolling her in doggy daycare may be a good option.

5. Make sure your pet gets plenty of exercise

Many pets enjoy running around daily with their young humans, so the start of the school year can mean a lot of energy suddenly getting pent up. To combat this, include exercise and playtime into your new routine. Even if everyone’s tired when they get home, it’s important to remind the whole family that Fido needs some attention before settling down in front of the TV.

If you have a dog that enjoyed midday walks all summer, consider hiring a dog walker to keep this up.

6. Create a comfortable home environment

Most dogs and cats enjoy getting in a significant amount of snooze time during daylight hours, which is convenient when school is back in session. Make sure your furry friend has multiple comfy spots around the house to choose from.

Music has been shown to comfort animals, so leaving on some quiet tunes can help create a soothing atmosphere. Just be sure there are no intense beats or potentially stressful noises on the playlist.

7. Don’t ignore dogs and cats when returning home

Obviously, you don’t want to totally ignore dogs and cats when you see them for the first time in hours. However, it’s important to not act too sad when leaving them or overexcited when getting home. Reacting too strongly will only hinder your pet’s ability to adapt to the situation.

Conveying this message to young children can be a challenge, but that’s why it’s a good idea to have them practice leaving and returning home before school kicks off. When everyone remains as calm as possible on either end of the day, pets will be more likely to see the situation as no big deal and just another part of the daily routine.

8. Consider a pet sitter

Some pets just really don’t like being left alone. Even if you work from home, these dogs and cats may feel neglected while the kids are at school and you aren’t paying attention to them constantly. While it is important to give pets time to adjust, some will do best when they have someone dedicated to spending time with them.

In these situations, a pet sitter can be a life saver. You may find that having a sitter come for even just an hour or two each day helps your pet’s mood and energy levels significantly.

9. Keep pets safe at home

Most dogs and cats can eventually adapt to new situations, like being on their own when everyone’s working or at school. However, it’s still vital to take precautions. Take some time to “pet-proof” your home:

  • Put all food, medicines, and cleaning products away and out of reach of your pet.
  • Consider pet insurance if you haven’t protected your pet already against unexpected illnesses and injuries.
  • To prevent dehydration, make sure your pet’s water bowl is full every day before everyone leaves.
  • Ensure all doors and windows are locked and secured while you’re away.
  • Consider using pet gates or otherwise shutting off access to any areas you do not want your pet in.
  • Talk with your pet’s veterinarian about additional ways to ease pet stress during the school year and keeping your pal safe while he’s home alone.


Two yellow school buses in a school driveway.


The back-to-school season is followed closely with the onset of fall. Keep dogs and cats safe all season long with these fall-specific safety tips.



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