A True Companion Left Behind

Separation anxiety is a common obstacle for first-year college students, and their pets at home can feel it just as acutely as their parents do.


photo by Jess Daninhirsch

As high school seniors across the country prepare for college, many will soon leave their most loyal companions behind.

Emily Janosko, Staff Writer

When I first came back from my weekend trip to Ohio, my little maltipoo, Spike, jumping up, absolutely ecstatic to see me. Sometimes I forget how close the bond is between people and their pets, and that was a nice reminder. 

His excitement also reminded me that in just a couple months, I would have to leave my beloved puppy to attend college.

Sam Donaldson, a fellow NASH senior, also has to leave her dog, Austin, when she leaves for school. 

“I’m going to miss coming home after school every day and getting a happy greeting from him. I’m also going to miss playing with him outside and going on daily walks,” she said.

Parents of college-bound seniors aren’t the only ones who will soon be affected when school begins next fall. Pets also feel the impact of an empty nest. In fact, one in six dogs will suffer from separation anxiety when the student leaves for school. 

Dogs can demonstrate anxiety by pacing around the home, whining, and trying to escape. Other dogs might regress into the bad habits they had as a puppy. Many dogs might start acting up again by knocking over trash cans, having accidents, or chewing furniture. 

Dogs aren’t the only pets that are upset by their friend’s departure. Cats can also suffer from anxiety, but their symptoms can be more latent than a dog’s. 

Cats that are suffering from separation anxiety will often lose their appetite, tremble, and withdraw from human contact. In extreme cases, cats will over-groom themselves, leading to raw, open patches of skin. 

Additionally, both dogs and cats can pick up on parents’ emotions. If the parent is missing their child, the family pet will often mimic the parent’s mood by altering their own behavior. 

I’m going to miss playing with him outside and going on daily walks.

— Sam Donaldson, NASH senior

However, if a pet begins to experience separation anxiety after a student’s departure, there are helpful treatments, including FDA-approved mood-altering drugs Reconcile and Clomicalm. 

Both drugs should only be used in extreme circumstances, such as when the pet’s anxiety is altering their quality of life. Additionally, the drugs do not immediately correct the pet’s behavior–the drugs will help the pet be more receptive to adapting to the new absence of their friend. 

Exercise can also help a pet cope with a student’s departure, as it helps them burn calories and also provides an outlet for their emotions. Integrating exercise into the pet’s daily routine will ensure that they are relaxed and happy. 

Additionally, many pets need ways to avert their minds from dwelling on how much they miss their human companion. Dogs can easily be distracted by a toy filled with treats, while cats can find enjoyment in searching for dry food hidden around the house. 

Contrary to popular belief, many pets need the benefits of solitude, even during times when they are experiencing separation anxiety. Cats enjoy spending time watching the wildlife on their own special window perch, and secluded dog beds and crates will help ease anxiety. 

Although every pet will feel the new absence of their best friend, there are many ways to help them transition into a new lifestyle. Having other family members slowly take over the duties, such as walking, feeding, and training, will help the pet form stronger relationships with other people.  

It is also recommended that the family slowly increase their pet’s alone time to help them adjust. However, if your pet cannot stand being alone for more than usual, there are many doggy-day-care options available

But in the 21st century, there’s one more way to ease the separation once college begins.

“I will definitely need to FaceTime my family a lot to see him,” Donaldson said. “My puppy is my little buddy.”