Back-to-school season is an exciting time for many families. New classes, teachers, clothes, and supplies. In the hustle and bustle of getting back into the swing of things, we might not notice how it is affecting our pets. Some pets may adjust easily, but others may experience stress or anxiety about the changes. This time of year can also introduce new items into your home for your pet to explore. We’ll look at some of the things you should consider as you head into the back-to-school season to help keep your pet happy and healthy.
Separation Anxiety and Boredom
We, and our pets, have adjusted to spending more time at home. The change in routine resulting from going back to school can be difficult for your pet. Dogs may dig, scratch, howl, whine, or destructively chew. Cats, particularly those with a history of abandonment, trauma, or abuse can also be susceptible, showing signs such as trembling, withdrawing, hiding, or loss of appetite.
- Ease your pet into a schedule. Start with short absences and then lengthen the time away as your pet becomes more comfortable. The faster you can establish a predictable schedule, the more likely your pet will adjust to the change. They will start to understand what to expect when you leave for the day, and when you are coming home.
- Keep boredom at bay. Provide a distraction such as toys, a window seat, or food-filled treats. You can also turn on the TV or radio. Sounds of voices or music can help your pet feel like they are not alone.
- Spend quality time with your pet. Show your pet that they are loved when you are home. Extra playtime and attention when you return home can teach your pet that you will come back.
- Exercise regularly. If it’s possible to exercise your pet before you leave the house, this can help tire them out before you depart.
- Use a pet sitter. You can also consider a pet sitter or pet day care. It may not be necessary every day but providing some time when they are not alone can be helpful. Your pet can expend some energy in a positive way and enjoy socializing.
You can consider crate training if accidents or destructive behavior are a concern. If your pet’s anxiety does not seem to get better, you can talk to your family veterinarian about potential treatments that may help.
Hidden Dangers in Lunch Boxes
For many, a new school year means the return of the longstanding lunchtime debate: pack vs. buy? Many of the healthy foods or convenience items we use to pack lunches are great for kids but not for pets.
- Pay attention to what you’re packing. Some school lunch favorites are grapes and raisins which are toxic to our pets. Other items that top the list of dangerous items that often find their way to lunch boxes include macadamia nuts, chocolate, and items that contain xylitol (found often in chewing gum or sugar-free candies).
- Caution on cold packs. They are great to keep your child’s sandwich cool for lunch, but the contents in a cold pack can be toxic to your pet. Some ice packs contain ethylene glycol or ammonium nitrate which are extremely dangerous if ingested.
- Beware of bags. Chip bags and other plastic snack bags can present a suffocation risk for your pet. When a pet explores the leftovers, they can get their head stuck and when they breathe in, the bag closes in around their mouth and nose. According to the AVMA, pets can suffocate in less than five minutes. (https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2018-05-15/snack-bags-pose-suffocation-risk-pets) You can also cut or tear bags before putting them in the trash in case your pet finds their way to the trash can.
- Watch what’s left after lunch. Banana and orange peels, apple cores, milk or cheese products, or other food remnants that didn’t make it to the garbage at school can create dangerous blockages if ingested. Foods that transition into science experiments can also present a problem. Moldy foods can contain fungal neurotoxins that can make your pet very ill.
Make sure lunch boxes are emptied at school or that they make it to a safe location when your child returns home. Dispose of any garbage or leftovers right away in trash bins that are not accessible to pets.
Hidden Dangers in Backpacks
Back-to-school time can also lead to the return of backpacks on the floor or by the door. Our pets can be curious and persistent.
- Mind the medications. ADHD medications, albuterol inhalers, and even over-the-counter pain relief medications (NSAIDs and Acetaminophen) can be dangerous for pets. These items may be in a backpack for easy access during the school day, but human medications should not be shared with pets.
- Guard your gum. As mentioned earlier, sugar-free gum often contains xylitol which is dangerous for pets. Xylitol can cause low blood sugar, seizures, liver failure, or even death. This caution extends to any sugar-free mints or candies that might be lurking in your child’s backpack.
- Set aside school supplies. Pencils, pens, erasers, and other bite-size school supplies can be tempting if you have a pet who likes to chew. Broken, sharp pieces of pencils, pens, and other items can damage your pet’s gastrointestinal tract or cause an obstruction if swallowed. In general, ink from pens or markers is not toxic unless ingested in very large amounts. However, it could create a quite a mess to clean up.
- Use caution with cords. Computer electrical cords can present a danger if your pet chews on a cord while it’s plugged in, or pets could get themselves caught in the cord.
Pack with care to keep your pet safe and create a secure spot for your child’s backpack after school. A hook on a wall can help keep the bag off limits to curious pets.
Involve the Whole Family
Getting your pet prepared for the new schedule and keeping an eye out for new temptations can ensure your back-to-school season does not include a trip to the emergency room. Make sure you also talk to your child about the importance of picking up after themselves and placing their school items out of reach. It will take everyone in the family cooperating to keep these new temptations at bay. Even the most vigilant pet owners can experience surprises thanks to curious pets. Contact your family veterinarian or visit your nearest MedVet if your pet does get into any of the dangerous items listed here.