How Pets Help Ease the Transition to an Empty Nest

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Everyone handles kids going to college differently. Some people may be excited for the life change. Others may be anxious. Some may feel a mix of emotions. Will the new-found freedom be refreshing? Or will it be too quiet and empty without children in the house?

One thing's for sure: a loving pet can provide comfort and purpose for pet parents missing their human children.

Empty nest pets are animals that help fill the void kids moving out leave in their parents' lives. For eighteen years or more, children depend on their parents, and once they leave the house, animals can step in to give moms and dads a new friend to take care of and love.

Here are two real-life stories of parents and the pets that helped them through this big life change.

Andrea and Owie: Empty Nest Pets Can Change Your Life

Andrea wearing a pink shirt sits holding her cat Owie near her face.When her daughter moved away to attend culinary school, Andrea sunk into a deep depression. She felt so lost without her child that she even moved the rest of her family to the same city as her daughter. However, the move didn't help. Andrea questioned everything about her life once her daughter went to college and blossomed into an adult.

Andrea's marriage suffered as a result of her depression. Andrea said, "I realized that over the years of taking care of kids and spending so much time working on my business, my 25-year relationship with my husband had gotten the shorter end of the stick. I sunk into a deep depression and gained a lot of weight. Overall, I think the hardest part of my daughter Cara leaving was fearing that she and I would grow apart, and I would end up being all alone."

Owie to the Rescue!

"Owie had come to us 11 years earlier. He won our hearts, and we adopted him into our home. I was really worried about how Owie would handle Cara's absence, so although Owie had always been Cara's cat, I felt very protective of him. I credit Owie with helping me to stay grounded and connect with my heart.

"One day Owie had an accident and was limping. When I took him to the vet, he explained that although his accident was minor, he could see that Owie had gotten so obese that if he didn't start losing weight he would die. That brought me to the sober realization that I was overcompensating with food by overfeeding Owie and myself. As I began to reduce Owie's food intake, I started making my own changes and got healthier and pulled myself out of the depression."

While Owie's accident led to lifestyle changes for both Andrea and her cat, the duo's everyday shared moments were a huge comfort during the transition. "There were several things I did with Owie that helped me feel better about Cara, but one of the most valuable was taking naps each afternoon with him in Cara's room. He would cuddle in my arms as I cried. It felt like Owie really understood the depth of sadness that I was feeling about not having Cara around.

"In the evenings especially, when I felt Cara's absence the most, I would sit with Owie and groom him, and talk and cry. There was something so healing about being with Owie, stroking his fur, rubbing his belly, and hugging him. Wow! I could go on forever. I credit Owie with helping to heal my heart during the most painful and scary time in my life."

Andrea isn't the only person that Owie helped during the transition of the kids going to college. He also bonded with her husband, which in turn benefited his pet parents' marriage.

Julie, David, Socks, and Sterling: Empty Nest Pets Enhance Your Family

A couple stands on a beach holding their two dogsLike many people, Julie was simultaneously excited and nervous about how her life would change without children at home. She knew that she raised independent children who were ready for the college experience, but going from a house of five, to four, to three, and then just she and her husband took some getting used to.

"I was a little anxious about the kids going to college, but felt confident that they were prepared for it. It took a while to get used to such a quiet house. We missed the children, but also enjoyed our 'independence' to come and go without considering dinner, homework, and sports."

The loss of a routine is often both freeing, yet difficult to adjust to for many parents. It's also why many animals become empty nest pets. Dogs, cats, and other pets require constant attention, feeding, and grooming. They encourage a relaxed routine that helps with the transition.

For David's fiftieth birthday, Julie gave him a present that forever changed their whole family: Socks, a Chiweenie (Chihuahua/Dachshund mix). The couple later invited Sterling, also a Chiweenie, into their home to be a playmate for Socks. "Our dogs are very needy, always wanting to cuddle. We oblige. Taking care of them helps me keep a schedule and provides comfort knowing 'someone' is home when I get home for work. The dogs are always crazy happy to see us when we get home. I look forward to that! We have several friends our age who also have dogs, so now in addition to talking about our children, we also talk about our dogs."

Socks and Sterling enhanced Julie and David's already happy life, but the Chiweenies play a large role in their children's lives as well. "The dogs are always excited to see the kids when they come to visit. My daughter, Elizabeth, got a Dachshund when she was at college and that inspired us to get one also. My son also got a dog when he was in college, so suddenly we became a multi-dog family. Our youngest daughter got two cats in college also. We cat-sit frequently and all the pets get along nicely."

Images courtesy of Andrea | Julie and David

Contributor Bio

Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila


Erin Ollila is a pet enthusiast who believes in the power of words and how a message can inform–and even transform–its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at


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