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Ask the Vet: Routine changes affect pets too

Dr. Amanda Bruce

 It’s back to school, regular work schedules and routine for us next week. Summer vacation season is officially over with the return to our “normal” lives.

But that means it’s also a time of change for our pets. After three months of having kids and people around, and more involved in their lives, many pets will be alone for much of the day. As pet owners, we can take a few easy steps to make this transition less stressful for our animals, and ultimately, for us. Here are my tips for making the switch as easy as possible:

• Recognize the change: This is the first and most important step. Yes, the kids have back to school clothes, new teachers and maybe even new bus schedules. Yes, the end of summer vacation means no more Fridays off for the grown-ups. But what does all of this change mean for your pet?

• Recognizing that your animal is affected when your routines change is critical to making the transition successful. Be more attentive to your dog or cat, and pick up on behavior changes that might be tied to your routine change. Your pet may be trying to tell you something about how the change is affecting them, from sleep to meals to boredom to bathroom breaks.

• Exercise always helps: I’m a big believer in regularly taking your dog for a walk or engaging your cat with activity. But exercise is particularly important when schedule changes mean your animal will be spending more of the day alone and sedentary.

Make an extra effort to walk the dog or play with your cat before work. Get some of that energy out and prepare your animal for his or her day alone. Not only will your pet be happier and probably ready for a nap after you leave for work, but you’ll both also enjoy a little extra time together.

• Healthy distractions are key: A pet who resorts to destructive behavior is often a bored pet. So cure the boredom with healthy distractions. Buy your pets squeaky toys or chew toys that can keep them occupied when the family is away. Think of these as back-to-school supplies for your pet. New pet toys will be interesting and comforting to your animal. And they’re cheaper than new furniture or drapes.

• Consider confined spaces: This depends on what your pet is used to, of course. But especially in the early days of “home alone” time for pets, consider confining them to a room, back hall or even a crate to keep roaming and trouble to a minimum. When pets are confined, always make sure they have adequate food, water and distractions such as toys.

• Stop at home: Yes, you’re back to your busy schedule. But build in flexibility to check on your pet and provide an opportunity for bathroom breaks. If you can’t do this, consider hiring a neighbor or a pet-sitter to visit your animal during the day. A little extra attention in the middle of the day can prevent the hassle of cleaning up a mess at the end of the day.

The start of fall school and work routines is a big deal to us. But it’s an equally big a deal to the animals in our lives. Even if they have successfully navigated hours alone at home before, pets are affected by sudden changes in our activity patterns. Pay extra attention to your pets in coming days and week as they work with you to adjust.

Dr. Amanda Bruce of Superior is owner of PetCare of Duluth, 2701 W. Superior St., Suite 102, Duluth. You can reach her or ask questions for future columns at or 218-461-4400. For more information, go to