Separation Anxiety

The Covid stay-at-home orders during the past year have felt like a godsend  to our pets.  Many of those dogs will exceed their threshold for panic when their guardians return to normal routines keeping them from their homes for many hours.  Separation anxiety in dogs involves a severe distress response to the stress of being separated from their owner that they are highly attached to. This can have negative effects on health and lifespan in dogs and can decline the quality of life for the dogs and people.

In many cases  the signs begin as their human is preparing to leave the home.  The symptoms may include drooling, vocalization, destructive behavior, pacing, house-soiling, panting, aggression, self mutilation, depression, and trying to escape.  Dogs with this disorder also show increased greeting behavior upon the owner’s arrival and many also show signs of noise phobia.

The first step if you suspect separation anxiety is a trip to your veterinarian as many medical and behavioral conditions can mimic this disorder.  A thorough history taking, physical exam and a lab profile are essential in identifying factors affecting the distressed pet.  Achieving the best possible outcome for separation anxiety cases depends on careful management, behavior modification and in many cases, medication.

Once diagnosed, it is imperative to avoid panic triggers- anxiety is a cascade type phenomenon that worsens with each episode. Environmental enrichment can help in mild cases such as leaving a toy puzzle, Snuffle Dog Feeding Mat and Kong filled with food for your pet.  To reduce anxiety, provide daily walks before leaving, use a surveillance system smartphone app to give your pet verbal encouragement throughout the day  and play Through a Dog’s Ear Music while you are gone.

For the short term consider getting a doggy door, hiring a pet sitter or using doggy day care.Long term strategies are more time consuming but may be necessary for moderate to severe cases.  These include behavioral modification through desensitization to pre-departure cues,  independence training and graduated departures. All of these can be addressed with a qualified trainer with experience in separation anxiety.

It is important to not punish your pet for their behavior as that may increase their anxiety and  make things worse.  Dogs are very social beings that enrich our lives and it is our responsibility as guardians to provide a safe loving home and take care of all of their medical and behavioral needs.