Your four-legged family member is showing signs of distress. Is it separation anxiety? This is a common concern for many pet parents, especially this time of year when you may plan a vacation. Your concern for your pet can make it very difficult to leave the house or get things done, so we are here to help. After all, you don’t want to put your summer plans on hold.
First, here are some signs of separation anxiety.
● You find urine or feces in your home.
● There is a lot of barking, whining, and howling when you leave.
● There is destruction in your home, including chewing and scratching marks, especially around windows and doors.
● There are signs of escape attempts.
● Your dog is pacing back and forth or acting oddly.
● Your dog is eating his/her own excrement.
Please note the distinction between separation anxiety and an untrained housemate. The symptoms may be a bit similar, but knowing that your pet is trained and showing multiple signs of distress may mean they are suffering from separation anxiety.
Cases range from mild to severe; some dogs may even experience separation anxiety when you are in a different room.
Why do some dogs have separation anxiety?
Your dog could have separation anxiety for a number of reasons, especially if he or she was adopted from a shelter. Cases of anxiety are significantly higher in older, adopted dogs than those that have been raised from puppyhood in a single household. However, that is not always the case. The following life changes may cause the development of separation anxiety:
● Experiencing traumatic events such as spending time at a shelter or pound.
● Change of guardian or “pack” member.
● Moving to a different residence. Dogs may take some time getting used to their new home, so you may need to help them become familiar with their surroundings.
● Change in their schedule or routine.
Believe it or not, you may also be causing separation anxiety without realizing it. We often make a big fuss about leaving or coming home, which rewards the dog’s concern about our absence. There needs to be a balance between obedience, security, and patience in your dog so that they are confident enough to be left alone.
Treatment for Mild Cases
Try ignoring your dog for the first five minutes when leaving and returning to your home. This may be difficult for the pet owner, but it will increase your dog’s confidence in its ability to be on its own. You may also try leaving recently worn clothes in their surrounding area to give them a sense of security through your smell.
Establishing a word or phrase that indicates departure or return has helped many pet owners. But one of the most important things to do is keep them busy! Make sure they get ample playtime and exercise during the time you spend with them so that they can use your time of absence as a rest period. Leave them plenty of toys and give them space to roam. Food puzzles usually work great. Put a special treat or high-value food in the puzzle to keep them busy. Then when you return, take the puzzle away, so they associate their treat with being alone.
Treatment for More Severe Cases
Start with the strategy outlined above, but if you need some additional help, speak to your veterinarian. Some severe cases may require medications. Such prescriptions can help your dog tolerate the isolation without having the fear or anxiety while you are away. However, you must always consult with a veterinarian or animal behaviorist before trying medications.
If you are leaving for an extended period, consider leaving your loved one at a kennel or doggy day care. The important thing is to keep their minds busy and having plenty of doggy friends, toys, and attention may help a lot.
What Won’t Work
Contrary to popular belief, another pet, crating, punishment, and white noise from a TV or radio may not help. The most important thing to remember, in this time of treatment, is to reward them with positive reinforcement. The anxiety is caused by distress of being left alone and punishment will only make them more upset and may worsen the problem.
If you have any questions about your dog’s separation anxiety, please contact us today!