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Kids are in school, pet's depressed

Toy IndustryBack to SchoolFitness

The old adage is that the happiest time of the year for moms and dads is the day the yellow bus takes their darlings off for their first day of school. It's not altogether true in my house (which felt too quiet by mid-morning yesterday), though I'll admit not missing my kids' bickering very much.

For her part, the Labrigator watched her little humans scamper off to school the last two mornings and retired upstairs for long naps, seemingly undisturbed by their absence. But for many pets, back to school is a sad time, and they're lost without their school-age companions -- especially if all the adults are also gone all day.

The experts at Pets360 say their recent survey found that 20 percent of pet owners with school-age children said their pets showed signs of anxiety or depression when everyone in the house went back to their normal routine at the end of the summer. That can lead to everything from house-training issues to destructive behavior to old-fashioned sadness and pouting among cats and dogs. They offer the following tips to help your pet deal with back-to-school anxiety.

Invest in treats and toys. Having a rotating supply of special toys that you can pull out as needed can alleviate boredom when the house empties after summer vacation. Chew toys when an adult is home and puzzle toys or Kongs with frozen peanut butter inside during all-alone hours can help your pet stay entertained.

Increase park time. Finding a few minutes to take Fido to a dog park or dropping him off at doggy daycare can help depressed pets snap out of their malaise. Substitute playing with other animals for playing with people, but be sure to do so in a supervised environment where other playmates have likely had their vaccinations and appropriate socialization.

Get an early start. Getting up an hour earlier for some one-on-one playtime with your pet can make a world of difference in his or her demeanor. A long walk, game of fetch, or a run outside before everyone heads out for the day helps your pet feel balanced, just as exercise helps humans work out stress and sadness. Including children in this routine can also strengthen the bond between them and their animals.

Create a safe spot. Give your pet a dedicated space that's just his or hers--a crate, closet, or corner of a room with a bed or pillows that no one else visits. Giving him or her a safe spot lets them feel secure even when no one is around.

Back to school doesn't have to be upsetting for your pet. If you've dealt with a depressed dog or cat at back-to-school time, I'd love to hear your strategies in the comments!

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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