If your kids have just gone off to college, then empty nest syndrome is on the horizon. You know you’ll miss them terribly and that you’ll feel a bit low, but have you thought about how your dog will feel?
Think about it.
When your kids leave the family home, your dog has probably been part of the family for about 10 years (depending on how old your kids were when you finally caved in and allowed them to have a pet). That’s 10 years of getting used to a certain routine, where the kids walk the dog, play with it and generally reinforce its sense of belonging.
A Dog’s Eye View
From the dog’s point of view, all of the humans belong to him. They are part of his dog-tribe – and you’d better not forget it! That’s why dogs protect you from strangers (and probably also why they chew your slippers – no sense of boundaries). All of this means that dogs also feel low when a member of their tribe disappears, seemingly without trace. And even when it’s a case of kids going back to school, dogs can find the change in routine upsetting.
Is Your Dog Depressed?
Dogs with the back to school blues tend to show it in one of two ways. Some dogs get lethargic, eat less or lose their appetite, just as some humans do when they get depressed. They may drag themselves around the house looking for the missing kids. If the dog has been used to sleeping in a kid’s bedroom, he may whine or bark if he’s suddenly sleeping alone and may pace up and down.
Then there are the more active signs of depression. Dogs destroying furniture, scratching at doors, tugging at curtains and blinds, chewing stuff they’re supposed to leave alone and getting into the garbage can may all be signs of doggy depression. And let’s not forget that dogs are extremely empathetic. Ever noticed how your dog will come and lick your hand or lie at your feet when you’re feeling low? If family members are feeling sad because the house is empty, dogs will pick up on that too.
Dealing With Depression in Dogs
So what can you do to cheer up your depressed pet? An easy fix that you may not think of right away is good, old-fashioned exercise – and lots of it. Active dogs have less time to be depressed. They can let off steam and get those endorphins flowing – and it’s good for heart health too – both theirs and yours. Increase the length of walks so your dog is getting an appropriate amount and you’ll have a much happier pet. Again, if you know your kids are going to college, start letting other people handle the walks well before they go and it won’t be as stark a change for your dog.
Some pet experts suggest giving dogs something else to focus on, such as interesting smells (you can rub pieces of cloth with different scents), a piece of clothing from the kid who’s gone away (the scent will soothe the dog) and bird feeders (which attract other animals and pique the dog’s interest). A new chew toy is another option.
Natural Cures for Depressed Dogs
For predictable events, such as the start of school or college, you can use holistic remedies to help relieve anxiety and stress. Essential oils with almond, chamomile, jasmine, lavender, rosemary and ylang ylang work best. Hypersensitive dogs will also do well on flower essences. Flower essences are another natural, non-invasive alternative to doggie anti-depressants. We recommend Nelson Bach Rescue Remedy as it’s one of the best, natural, anti-stress, anti-anxiety products out there and is something that we’re planning to include in our soon-to-be-released K-911 Pet First Aid Kit.
Day Care to Cure Doggy Depression
Finally, let’s not forget the option of doggy day care. Dogs usually bond with the carer and enjoy the chance to interact with other dogs. This will also stop the dog from spending every day alone and create a new, well-loved routine.
Given enough time, your dog will stop being depressed and will adjust to new routines and a new way of life – and maybe you will too!