Many pet owners do not like to leave their cherished companion alone at home while they go to work or run errands. Some pets are upset about being left behind, and develop separation anxiety. In fact, dogs with separation-related diagnoses make up 10% to 20% of the cases referred to veterinary behaviorists. This common condition can ruin your home, and your love for your pet, when you return to the sight of their stress-induced destruction but, fortunately, can be successfully managed with a multimodal treatment plan. However, you must be aware that separation anxiety cannot be fixed quickly, and your pet’s behavioral modification plan will require plenty of patience and perseverance.
Here are some questions that pet owners frequently ask about their furry pal’s separation anxiety and helping to manage this condition:
Question: What is separation anxiety in pets?
Answer: Separation anxiety occurs when a pet forms such a tight-knit bond with their owner that they become upset when that person leaves them. The pet becomes anxious and nervous, and may inappropriately eliminate, or cause destruction, which can badly affect the pet-owner relationship. While some bad behaviors by a pet who is left alone are caused by poor manners, the same behaviors—when paired with distress signals—can indicate separation anxiety.
Q: Do cats get separation anxiety as well as dogs?
A: Although we tend to think of cats as more independent and self-sufficient than dogs, they can also express anxiety when left home alone. Signs that your feline friend suffers from separation anxiety include:
- Excessive meowing, crying, or moaning
- Eating too fast, or not eating at all
- Excessive self-grooming
- Elimination outside the litter box
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive excitement when you return home
- Vomiting food or hairballs
- Trying to escape from your home
Keep in mind that cats are generally subtle creatures known for hiding distress, so detecting separation anxiety in your cat can be difficult.
Q: What are the signs of separation anxiety in dogs?
A: Separation anxiety signs in dogs are similar to those displayed by cats, but are typically more obvious to pet owners. Signs include:
- Barking, howling, whimpering
- Excessive clinginess
- Evidence of abnormal drooling when left alone
- Chewing, digging, or destroying household items
- Urination or defecation
- Trying to escape
While many owners think their dog has separation anxiety because they urinate, defecate, or chew on inappropriate items when left alone, a simple matter of insufficient training may be the reason. However, if you also notice distress signals, such as excessive drooling, or the inability to settle while you’re gone—a home recording system is helpful in this situation—your pup may be suffering from separation anxiety.
Q: What causes separation anxiety in pets?
A: Many underlying issues can be the root cause of your pet’s separation anxiety. The most common include:
- History of abandonment
- Multiple owners over time
- Rehomed into vastly different situations
- Prior neglect
Q: How can I help my pet manage their separation anxiety?
A: The best way to help your pet stay under their anxiety threshold is independence training. Slowly build up to leaving your pet by pairing a delicious, long-lasting treat with your absence. Offer your furry pal this treat only when you leave them alone. A rubber Kong stuffed with your pet’s favorite treats provides the perfect distraction while you slip out of the room, and fold laundry, or cook dinner. Also, unlink your pre-departure cues, such as picking up your keys, putting on your shoes, and grabbing a jacket. Your pet has learned these actions mean you will soon leave, but you can reduce the anxiety that builds up when your pet sees them by removing the association—instead, put on your shoes to watch TV, grab your jacket and put it in a different room, or pick up your keys and put them in your pocket. The ASPCA’s in-depth guide can help you manage your pet’s separation anxiety through counterconditioning and desensitization.
Q: How can my veterinarian help my pet manage their separation anxiety?
A: Some pets become so fearful when left alone that they cause serious harm to themselves or their homes. Pets have been known to dig through drywall, or break through windows to escape, because of their severe separation anxiety. If your pet feels this level of fear, a behavior consultation with Bassler Veterinary Hospital’s Dr. Bassler is necessary. She will discuss your pet’s signs to gauge their anxiety level, and determine an appropriate course of action. Some pets benefit from anti-anxiety medication during their behavior modification, and Dr. Bassler can advise you on whether your four-legged companion needs pharmaceutical aid to alleviate their anxiety.
Does your best friend moan and howl when you leave home? Perhaps you return to a shredded sofa, or a puddle of urine. If your furry pal seems to be suffering with separation anxiety, call us to schedule a behavioral consultation.