If you’ve walked into your home and found a shredded couch, a puddle of urine, or a quivering pet, your furry pal may be suffering from separation anxiety. This behavior condition is relatively common, but many pets with separation anxiety only display mild signs when left home alone. Moderate and severe cases can harm the bond between pets and owners, but all levels of separation anxiety should be managed to help improve a pet’s quality of life.
In addition to destroyed furniture and belongings, other signs of separation anxiety include:
- Excessive barking and howling for no other apparent reason
- Shaking and trembling
- Chewing, scratching, and exhibiting destructive behavior
- Attempting to escape from the house or crate
- Engaging in self-destructive behavior (e.g., breaking teeth or nails)
- Eliminating inappropriately
- Engaging in coprophagia (i.e., consuming their own feces)
- Obsessively following you
- Demonstrating abnormal excitement when you return
- Not eating when you are gone
Keep in mind that while these signs can indicate separation anxiety, they also could be signs of an underlying medical problem or other behavior issue. For example, urinating indoors can be caused by kidney disease, corticosteroid use, or territorial marking. Careful evaluation of your pet’s health and behavior at home will help our Otay Pet Vets veterinarian make the correct diagnosis.
Your pet may be at a higher risk for developing separation anxiety because of the following factors:
- Changes in routine or schedule
- Moving to a new place
- Changes in family members
- History of abandonment
Most veterinary professionals agree that genetics and a history of abandonment are the primary causes of separation anxiety in dogs.
If you notice your pet displaying separation anxiety signs, or if they fall into the high-risk category, try the following four tips to help them.
#1: Practice calm departures and arrivals
Although it’s tempting to reassure your dog you’ll be back when walking out the door or greet them in an overly exuberant fashion upon returning, these over-the-top departures and arrivals can cause your furry pal distress. Instead of ratcheting up your pet’s emotion, stick to calm greetings and goodbyes. Toss your pet a treat puzzle or other long-lasting chew before walking out the door with a simple “see you soon.” When returning home, pat your pet a time or two, then continue walking through the door and settling in. Avoid using high-pitched, excited tones when saying hello to your furry pal, and refrain from hugging them multiple times and acting as if you’ll never see them again before you leave. Cool, calm departures and arrivals will help your pet realize that your comings and goings are no big deal.
#2: Unlink departure signals
When you put on your shoes and grab your keys, does your dog fly into a panic because they know these are signals that you’ll be leaving? Unlink these departure signals by teaching your pet they don’t mean anything. For example, put your shoes on and sit down to watch TV. Or, pick up your keys, and then place them on the kitchen counter while you make a snack. With time, your pet won’t become so worked up over these actions, and you can slip out the door without alarming them.
#3: Provide plenty of physical and mental stimulation for your pet
A pet who lacks enough physical and mental stimulation is a bored pet, which makes them prone to developing anxiety and other behavior problems. Keep your pet from succumbing to boredom and anxiety by engaging in daily exercise and offering plenty of entertainment. Training sessions, walks in different locations, learning new sports, and food puzzles are excellent ways to help tire out your pet mentally and physically.
#4: Create a soothing environment to help calm your pet
You can help your four-legged friend relax when left home alone by creating a peaceful atmosphere. Design a soothing environment by:
- Playing calming music
- Diffusing soothing pheromones that are similar to what your pet’s mother emitted
- Providing plenty of engaging toys
- Offering food puzzles and long-lasting treats
- Leaving the TV or radio on
- Covering your pet’s bed with a shirt that smells like you
These methods work best when used together. If you’ve tried these tactics and your furry pal is still anxious, contact our Otay Pet Vets team to schedule a behavior consultation.