The COVID-19 pandemic likely changed your family’s day-to-day schedule, as well as the daily routine for your pet. Having kids home from school is a substantial departure from normal. While some schools have been open to in-person learning, over the next month many schools will be welcoming students back full-time for the first time since March 2020.

Although many kids look forward to being out of the house and back with their friends, pets are likely to experience the opposite shift in socialization. For many of them, this will be the first time they have been separated from family for an extended time in nearly a year. So how do you prepare your pets for this household change? Here are four top tips to help ease the transition for everyone.

1.) Use toys and treats to distract from your absence

The ASPCA suggests giving your dog a food-stuff toy filled with their favorite treats which can help keep them distracted at the beginning of the day when your kids leave. Make sure you put the toy away when you get home and only give it to them when you leave, so it signals that it is safe when your kids leave and that they can count on your return.

2.) Practice a new schedule

Your pet thrives on a routine, and with the kids going back to school they could look at this as a major disruption. Set new walk times and a feeding schedule that matches up with the new school schedule. Also, make sure to schedule daily playtime for both cats and dogs.

3.) Keep the television on or play music

Your pet has been used to having noise in the house each day, and when your kids go back to school, the silence can be an unsettling experience for pets. It is a good idea to have music playing on a radio or smart device, or leave the television on so they continue to hear voices throughout the day.

4.) Exercise is key to start the day

Consider longer walks in the morning for your dog as a means to tire them out earlier in the day. This in turn could help relax them throughout the day, encouraging them to take naps, and making their day go by faster. For cats, give them some extra playtime before everyone leaves for the day to help stave off the boredom that they could encounter while you’re gone.

“It is important to exercise your pet’s body as well as their mind. By encouraging your pet to think, you can reduce the amount of physical exercise they need and give them the enrichment they crave,” says Larimer Humane Society Supervising Veterinarian Dr. Lindsey Gapstur. “Some great ways to do this include, but are not limited to, toys that require them to work for treats, running through trick commands while taking them on a walk, placing their food in a maze bowl, creating games that make simple play like fetch more challenging. You might also consider teaching them a new trick or working on existing ones.” 

These simple additions to your routine can help your pet avoid boredom and even strengthen the bond with your family!