You can feel it in your bones. School is nearly over and summer vacation is being daydreamed about in classrooms all over the country. Graduation parties and tearful partings from high school buddies are just around the corner.
The hardest partings yet may be between your child and their childhood pet.
Is there a way to make it easier? It may depend on which side you’re on. Teens going off to college or work may have already begun weaning themselves from pets during their years in high school. Younger kids going off to summer camp may make the home seem eerily quiet, for both parents and pets. Aging pets may welcome additional time to themselves, or may seek you out for more company.
Your pet may be used to the family being away during school and work, but the absence of a particular family member for longer periods of time may push your pet to its comfort limit. And the stress of pets missing their human buddies may make itself known in subtle ways: a change in eating habits, obsessive grooming, aggressive behaviors, and possibly household soiling.
The rodents — hamsters, mice, rats, ferrets and guinea pigs — may also be affected. Used to being handled differently, especially by those who are more confident in their handling technique, these small pets may regress to nipping their handlers or show frenzied avoidance when approached by a different person.
Some simple tips to try include:
• Keep a routine going in the household as much as possible.
• Transition to caring for small pets while your child is still present.
• Play and relax with pets regularly, with and without your child.
• Allow a pet to spend time in your child’s room even when your child is away. Supervise, if you have to, to prevent accidents or discourage destructive behavior. The smell of your child in those familiar surroundings may bring comfort.
• If your pet exhibits extreme behavior that persists, ask your veterinarian for help. Your pet may have other health issues affecting its behavior, with or without stress factors.
The flip side of the coin, of course, is that in helping your pet cope with the absence of your child, your pet helps you to adjust to the quiet bedroom and one less place setting at the dinner table too.