By JeanneBennett

Spirit staff Pet Advocate

Graduation season is a very exciting time for both graduates and their families. It’s a celebration of years of hard work and sacrifices that, for many, marks the end of childhood and potentially the last time they will ever live at home full grad

Some parents and kids alike are kind of, well, thrilled, and looking forward to the separation.  Some parents, by July 4th, have already selected the color paint they plan to use in the room that is now referred to as “the kid’s old room” and some kids have already packed and are eagerly awaiting the day they move into their new dormitory.

In the midst of all of this planning and anticipation, it’s not hard to overlook a very important and, for the most part, voiceless member of the family: the cat or dog being left behind.

How will all of these changes affect the family pets?  Like with people, each experience is different. Based on the pet’s relationship to the soon “departed” and what role that person played in the pet’s life, a move may seem to go unnoticed. But if the pet was close or bonded to the family member going off to school, you may want to start preparing the animal for life without their favorite human.

Although we don’t often see it, cats can and will grieve for a person just like a dog will. Most cats, however, don’t display emotions like dogs by crying or showing outward signs of distress,  so often their anxiety and depression flies under the radar and their people don’t really notice. But it can be an anxious time for a cat, too.”

The best way to handle a depressed anxious pet is to diffuse the situation that may cause the problem before it happens. Most high school seniors have a pretty good idea of where they are going to college by this point, so it would be wise to start getting  the family pet used to life with one less family member.

It is a good idea to let other family members take over feeding and start to play a bigger role in your pet’s lives. Encourage the family dog or cat to start spending quality time with other members of the family. Maybe they could start spending nights in the bedroom of another family member. The last thing you want is to discover that your dog will cry all night if he has to sleep in a room alone.

Implementing more exercise and playtime into your pet’s schedule may also help. This can be a very effective way to get the pet to bond with the person who will take over the animal’s care. The activity you choose, really doesn’t matter; the point is to get the pet accustomed to spending time with someone else.

So, play “catch the laser” with the cat or take the dog to the dog park, but do something.  Family members who stay behind, should also be prepared to keep an extra close eye on the dog since cases of dogs wandering off after their best friend leaves are not that uncommon.

Investing in toys your pet can play with by themselves is a great way to keep them busy. A scratching post for your cat or an interactive toy that forces a dog to work for his food is well worth the money. If you are considering using a doggy daycare or bringing in someone to walk the dog, make sure you start using the service well in advance of the big change so any problems that arise can be handled.

You just have to remember that no two animals are the same and some dogs and cats are more sensitive to change than others. The sensitive, clingy pet may be more affected by changes in playmates or time spent alone than the more independent dog. The playful, energetic dog may be more sensitive to changes in exercise routine than the couch potato dog.

You know your dog best and you are best equipped to help him navigate the challenges. Just give him, and yourself, plenty of time, patience, and love to make peace with what lies ahead. If things don’t improve consult your veterinarian.

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