When They Love a Little Too Much:
Separation Anxiety In Dogs (and Cats)
Dr. Joyce Ashamalla
Dr. Joyce Ashamalla is the managing partner at Hinsdale Animal Hospital with Kremer Veterinary Service, as well as a partner at CARE Animal Emergency Hospital. She received her BS in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois- Champaign Urbana, where she also completed her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She is AO certified, USDA-APHIS accredited, and is a member of the CVMA, ISVMA, AVMA.
Our busy lives cause us to spend a lot of time away from home. From commuting to work, putting in a full day at the office, taking the kids to school or activities, and running errands, the time away from home can add up fast. While we are out and about, our pets are at home, patiently waiting for our return. Although plenty are fine on their own, separation anxiety in dogs is a serious issue for many others.
How do we define separation anxiety in dogs? When left alone, your pet has a tremendous amount of anxiety resulting in barking, destructive behavior, and other such responses. This is incredibly unhealthy for your pet and certainly can be disastrous to your home!
How To Deal With Separation Anxiety In Dogs
Many pet owners crate their dogs during the day while away from home, thinking the confined area will help. But crating alone is not an effective solution for how to deal with separation anxiety in dogs. While crated, dogs in distress can attempt to rip, chew, or bite on the crate. This is terrible for your dog because the high level of stress that causes the bad behavior is detrimental to their physiology. The chewing or biting has the possibility to damage to their teeth, joints and skin. In addition, the stress hormone cortisol has adverse effects on the body which can lead to stress colitis (diarrhea) and leave your pup’s immune defenses down, making them vulnerable to other illnesses such as upper respiratory infections and bladder infections, to name a few.
Dog Separation Anxiety Training
Dog separation anxiety needs to be dealt with on two levels. First, you should begin with dog separation anxiety training to adjust behavior. It’s important that the dog learns to settle down when home alone and it’s also important for the dog to learn what is expected of him or her when you leave the house.
Intervention with a trainer or behaviorist may be necessary for dog separation anxiety training in order to teach the dog to be comfortable when home alone. Dogs are individuals and each dog responds differently to training. The trainer or behaviorist will determine whether your dog responds to positive reinforcement or needs to be "corrected" with a squirt of a water bottle or by shaking a can of pennies. It often takes teamwork when determining how to deal with separation anxiety in dogs and it’s best to seek assistance from the experts!
Crate training may also be part of dog separation anxiety training, depending on how your dog tolerates being in a crate. Pet owners must start slowly with crate training by only allowing their dog to be in the crate for short periods of time. Make sure the crate is large enough for the dog to stand up and move around and be sure to make it comfortable by adding a favorite toy. It’s also helpful to feed the dog in the crate to create a positive association with it.
Anxiety Medications For Dogs
The second level of treating dog separation anxiety is administering behavior modification medications. Pet owners and trainers must work closely with a veterinarian when choosing anxiety medications for dogs that will help reduce stress and make the pet more receptive to the training methods. There are many anxiety medications for dogs and your veterinarian will choose the best one for your pet. These anxiety medications for dogs can be very helpful by reducing the stress hormone levels in the dog's body, thereby helping to minimize the detrimental health effects from dog separation anxiety.
Cat Separation Anxiety
Yes, cat separation anxiety is an issue too! Cats are often called solitary creatures because they are independent, but in reality, they need companionship and socialization just like dogs. Signs of cat separation anxiety are difficult to spot, but cat separation anxiety often begins with a change, such as a change in the pet owner’s work schedule or routine. Similar to dogs, cat separation anxiety also needs to be dealt with on two levels, including training and behavior modification, along with anxiety medication if needed. The main goal when dealing with cat separation anxiety is to reduce stress and increase stimulation through playtime, puzzle feeders, scratching posts and toys. If training and behavior modification are not enough, consult your veterinarian for advice regarding medications.
As many pet owners know, separation anxiety in dogs can be a daily concern for you and for your dog that is affected. If you notice a change in behavior and think it may be dog separation anxiety, it’s best to take a trip to the veterinarian for a proper diagnosis. Through training and behavior modification, along with medication when necessary, good behavior will become a habit and your dog will eventually enjoy being alone, eliminating the destructive behavior that separation anxiety in dogs can cause.