Pets sometimes struggle when children go off to school

If you’re a parent who got a new puppy or dog for the family this summer, your kids and the dog have probably spent their days playing fetch, running through the sprinklers and sharing snacks when they’ve finally worn each other out. But now that school is starting, your pup must learn to adjust to a new schedule.

Pets, including some cats, can get down in the mouth when their playmates disappear . That’s especially true if the pet has a close bond with the absent person.

You may also see a case of the down-dog blues if your work schedule changes or you are traveling more often for work. Dogs and cats like a predictable environment. Part of a pet’s emotional attachment to us is based on the expectation of doing something together on a regular basis, says John C. Wright, Ph.D., a certified applied animal behaviorist and professor of psychology at Mercer University in Macon, Ga.

When that routine changes, the result can be emotional and behavioral depression. Your dog may mope around or wait at the door for his pal’s return, and your cat may express her displeasure by yowling incessantly or sleeping more than usual. Some pets swing the opposite way and become more active than normal.

For dogs, the best medicine is plenty of exercise. Step in as the dog’s walking buddy, hire a dog walker to take him for a run and practice obedience lessons or tricks with him daily. Get some puzzle toys to help him stay occupied during the day.

“The more you can increase things that are both familiar but stimulating to the dog, and the more physical exercise, the more endorphin release you can provide, and that’s all good,” says animal behaviorist Mary Lee Nitschke, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Linfield College in Portland, Ore. Your pet can also take comfort from the scent of his pal. Give him a T-shirt or other inexpensive piece of clothing that’s been worn by your child or a spouse who’s traveling. The familiar smell will help him to chill out.

Cats can benefit from similar efforts. As much as possible, try to keep their routine the same.

If you have a student who will be off to college in the next year or two, now is the time to start preparing your pets for his absence.

•  Get the animal used to walks or playtimes from other family members.

•  For a new or young dog, practice leaving him alone for brief periods, using a crate to confine him if he’s not housetrained. Gradually extend the length of time before you return.

•  Have the pet perform a command, such as sit (cats can do this, too), and give a treat before you leave. They might even start to look forward to your departure!

Pet buzz

The penalty for stealing a pet just got a lot higher in New York. The maximum fine is now $1,000 (and/or six months imprisonment), up from $200, a rate set in 1970. Describing pet theft as a particularly heartless offense, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “Increasing the penalties for stealing or harming dogs, cats and other animals is an important way that we can crack down on this crime.” The penalty applies to anyone who removes a collar or identification; entices, seizes or harasses a pet being held or led; or transports an animal with the intent of killing or selling him.

•  It’s a classic image: a kitten lapping at a saucer of milk. But is milk really good for cats? In most cases, no. While a mother cat’s milk contains essential nutrients for kittens, many cats can’t tolerate cow’s milk and may develop a nasty bout of explosive diarrhea from drinking it.

•  Tucker, a black Labrador retriever, has an unusual job: He travels the world with wildlife biologist Elizabeth Seely, sniffing out the scat (feces) of exotic species. Tucker works for Conservation Canines at the University of Washington, which “hired” him by rescuing him from a shelter. His work involves scouting for caribou, moose and wolf droppings; seeking out the droppings of an invasive species of iguana on the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia; and taking to a boat to detect smears of orca scat on the water.

Avocados and pets

I keep hearing that avocados are bad for dogs, but my boyfriend has avocado trees, and his dog eats them off the ground all the time with no ill-effects. (His coat looks great, though.) What’s the scoop?

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We’ve heard that, too, and as we started investigating the topic, we discovered that Christine Gowen, Pet HealthZone editor for Veterinary Pet Insurance, was curious about this topic as well. She looked into it because her yellow Labrador retriever, Shelby, likes to nab fallen avocados from her neighbor’s tree.

Gowen discovered that the seed (the pit), bark and leaves of an avocado plant contain an oil-soluble toxin called persin. Gowen spoke to Dr. Justine Lee, a board-certified veterinary specialist in emergency critical care and toxicology. Lee says that persin is not toxic to dogs and probably not to cats.

While avocados might not be toxic to dogs and cats, that big pit could cause an obstruction in the esophagus, stomach or intestinal tract if a pet tries to down it. You don’t want to have to deal with the bill for that emergency surgery.