Please Don’t Go: Separation Anxiety in Dogs

May 1, 2020
Please Don’t Go: Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Like many households, you may have adopted a cute, fluffy puppy to chase away the quarantine blues. Recent months have afforded many people more time to potty train and monitor a puppy, but you may be setting your new family member up for failure if she has become used to being by your side 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you haven’t added a new family member, your adult dog has likely adapted to your constant presence, and may not react well when you suddenly return to work. We’ll help you understand separation anxiety in dogs, and discuss how to prepare your furry friend for your return to a normal schedule.   

What is separation anxiety in dogs?

Separation anxiety is a common canine behavior problem, and affects 20% to 40% of dogs presented to veterinary behavioral specialists. Separation anxiety is observed most frequently in dogs, but has also been reported in cats, birds, horses, pigs, goats, sheep, cattle, primates, and humans. Affected pets experience emotional distress when separated from the person, or animal, they are most attached to, and often react in a destructive manner. Although your pet may not develop full-blown separation anxiety when you return to work, you should make gradual changes now, to prevent anxiety-related behaviors.   

What are separation anxiety signs in dogs?

Dogs with separation anxiety are extremely fearful and anxious when their trusted family member is absent, and when left alone, may react with nervous or destructive behaviors, such as:
  • Obvious anxiety as you prepare to leave
  • Excessive happiness when you return home
  • Refusal to eat or drink
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Excessive drooling
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Inappropriate elimination
  • Obsessive attempts to escape a crate or room
  • Destruction of flooring, walls, or furniture
  • Self-harm, particularly to the feet and toenails, from escape attempts
Separation anxiety is more serious than a bit of whining when you leave the house, or your dog mischievously chewing up your favorite shoe while you are gone—the condition is a serious behavior problem that causes significant stress and anxiety to affected dogs.   

How can I prevent separation anxiety in my dog?Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Spending every moment with your new pet, or trusted sidekick, may be tempting while you are home all day, but keep in mind that you will eventually return to work, and your pet will have to learn to cope on her own. To prepare your pet for the inevitable schedule change, start by waking up at your normal time, getting ready for the day, and heading off to “work,” which may be your home office for now. While you are working, keep your pet busy in her crate, in another room, with her favorite toys and a food puzzle. Start by leaving your pet alone for an hour at a time, and gradually work up to an entire work day. At the time you would typically return home, release your pet from her crate without a big fuss, and engage in your normal after-work activities. Your puppy may whine when she first realizes she can’t lounge at your feet, and follow you around all day, especially since you are nearby, but she should eventually relax.   

What should I do if my dog displays separation anxiety signs?

If your dog becomes anxious, and displays separation anxiety signs when left alone, contact your family veterinarian. She will evaluate your pet’s overall health, to ensure her behaviors are not caused by a medical problem, and discuss a treatment plan with you. If your pet has severe separation anxiety, she may require medication, to help her remain calm during your absence, while you work on management techniques that will desensitize her to the stressors that cause anxiety. Some things you can do to help calm your pet include:
  • Desensitizing her to leaving cues — Your pet learns quickly that you are preparing to leave, when you put on your shoes, and pick up your keys. Perform these activities often without leaving, so your pet dissociates these cues with being left alone.
  • Ignoring your dog when you return home — Although ignoring your pet may seem counter-intuitive, if you fuss over your dog when you return home, you portray the impression that reuniting is a wonderful end to her solitude.
  • Saving high-value treats and toys for when you leave — Your pet’s favorite toys and treats, such as a food puzzle, or peanut butter-filled Kong, will distract her while you leave, and keep her mind off your absence.
  • Ensuring she gets adequate exercise — A tired pet is a happy pet, and if your furry friend receives plenty of physical and mental exercise, she may be too worn out to stress while you are gone.
Lastly, never punish your pet for her unwanted behaviors while she is alone. It’s important to understand that your pet is suffering from a severe anxiety disorder, and cannot control her actions.  Separation anxiety can occur for unknown reasons, but don’t create a situation that increases the likelihood of its development in your best friend. Use this time to gradually acquaint her with a new schedule, instead of abruptly springing your daily absence on her. If you think your pet may have separation anxiety, contact your family veterinary for guidance. For your pet’s emergency and specialty care needs, contact Care Center