Managing Separation Anxiety in Pets
This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian,
A serious condition and more common than you would think, separation anxiety affects pet dogs of all breeds and sizes. One out of every six dogs may suffer from canine separation anxiety. Dogs with separation anxiety may panic and suffer from stress when left alone.
How we interact with our pets largely affects the development of separation anxiety. Do you come home from work to find your pooch jumping and barking for joy? While it's a warmer greeting than the cat who runs in the other direction when you walk in the front door, it's not necessarily a sign of simple joy. An overexcited dog jumping all over you when you get home may be an indicator that they have been suffering from anxiety.
This type of anxiety occurs when your dog is separated from you for periods of time. Behaviours will be exhibited when left alone and often just before leaving. They may begin to show signs of stress when they see you performing leaving behaviours like putting on your shoes or picking up the keys.
The Signs of Separation Anxiety
Signs of separation anxiety prior to leaving may include:
- - Following you closely
- - Barking, whining, and vocalising
- - Drooling or sweating
- - Aggression may be observed in some cases.
Once you have left the house, other behaviours usually develop including:
- - Howling and crying
- - Not eating
- - Urinating or defecating inside
- - Destroying furniture or objects
- - Trying to escape by chewing on or scratching doors and windows
It is important to note that some pets will exhibit these behaviours due to a lack of training. If your dog poops inside just as much when you're home as when you're gone, they may just need more potty training.
Separation anxiety is often seen in young dogs who have never fully adapted to being separated from their owners, and in dogs with other anxiety disorders such as noise phobias. It can also develop after a change in the household or schedule - such as the easing of COVID restrictions and work resuming as normal!
Separation anxiety is also particularly common among adult shelter or rescue dogs. Pets that have been in your home since a puppyhood are less likely to develop separation anxiety. However separation anxiety can have a number of causes including moving house, the loss of a family member, a traumatic experience while home alone.
The best way to treat separation anxiety depends on the dog. Severe cases may not be able to be left alone without injuring themselves and may require medication from your veterinarian. But for most cases, dealing with separation anxiety is all about training your pet to be desensitised to you leaving and returning to the home.
Tips for training:
1. Avoid making a fuss when leaving or coming home. When you get excited with your pet when you first return, this reinforces you coming home as a significant event. Ignore them in the few minutes prior to your departure. Lots of attention before leaving can cause greater stress, especially if they can feel you are anxious or guilty about leaving them.
2. Don't let your dog develop negative associations to your morning rituals. If putting on your shoes or picking up keys is a trigger for your pet, try doing these actions without leaving the house. Teach them that these actions will not result in you leaving the house every time.
3. Give them alone time in small doses. Trial short periods of time away from your pet where you are in a different room to them in the house. Provide something fun or yummy such as a chewy treat or interactive toy to help distract them. You can gradually increase the amount of time spent away from your pet. When you return from your absence, try not to promote excitable behaviour; wait until they are calm before giving them attention.
5. Distract them with a toy or treat. Distracting your pet with an occupying toy or long-lasting treat when you leave can help keep them occupied and teach them to associate the process with positive feelings.
While proper training is essential, there are a number of non-medicated products that may help your dog during the training process. You might like to try a pheromone product such as Adaptil, an anxiety wrap, or a natural anxiety supplement or treat.
Top Anxiety Aids:
Tranquil Formula for Dogs works by delivering natural ingredients plus Tryptophan and B group vitamins to maintain an ideal emotional balance.
PAW Blackmore’s Complete Calm Chews are formulated with tryptophan, and B vitamins to help dogs with general anxiety, including stress caused by thunderstorms or separation from owners.
The ThunderShirt helps to calm your dog by applying constant gentle pressure to the sides of the body. It is best suited for short periods of anxiety such as thunderstorms but may help with separation anxiety.
Adaptil is an odourless, man-made version of Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP). Female dogs release DAP soon after birth to establish feelings of well-being and attachment in their puppies.
Keep them Distracted with Clever Toys
Interactive toys are a great way to keep your pet busy and distracted if you're away from home! There are plenty of interactive toys which dispense treats or encourage your pet to work for their food. You can even make your own treat-dispensing toy by cutting small holes into an empty drink bottle and filling with kibble.
This ball can be filled with tasty treats, peanut butter, kibble or treat paste to keep your pooch occupied and out of trouble.
This ball launcher has an open hopper, allowing your pooch to load balls without your assistance (after a little training).
The KONG can be stuffed with food, treat paste or peanut butter, and left to keep your dog occupied long enough for you to leave the house calmly.
These bright, colourful spheres are made from food-grade, highly resistant ABS and feature three adjustable release rates for various levels of learning and feeding.
Top Long Lasting Treats
Long lasting treats are great to keep your pet occupied when you're leaving the house. Fresh raw bones can be a good option (but be aware of the risks of feeding raw bones) as are treats such as Goat Horn, Cow Hooves, and Ear Chews.
These durable nylon bones are designed to keep even the most persistent and powerful of chewers satisfied. They may be washed in soap and water if needed and the delicious range of flavours are designed to last for the lifetime of the bone.
With a firm outer surface and a soft marrow inside, dogs love goat horn. Nature's Cuts Goat Horn are extremely tasty, firm but not brittle, and are great for cleaning the teeth. And best of all, these treats are completely natural.
These bully sticks are made 100% Beef for a tasty treat, ideal for use as a training reward. Sometimes called bull's pizzles, these are 15cm in length and are one of the longest lasting chews in the Blackdog range.
Veggie Ears are a long lasting treat and vegetarian option treat that will keep your dog occupied for a long period of time. Blackdog treats are high quality and produced using minimal processing and additives.
Separation anxiety is not to be confused with disobedience but rather uncertainty of whether they will ever see you again. Bored pets can wreak havoc similar to anxious ones, stimulating toys with hidden treats are a good way to keep them busy while you're away. Be careful with edible chew sticks or pigs ears while unsupervised though as pets can try to swallow these whole. Taking your dog for a walk or playing with them prior to leaving will tire them out and make anxiety less likely.
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