cute messy dog

Does your pet get anxious when you leave your home?  Does your pet follow you from room to room?  Does your pet howl at the door when you get ready to leave?  Does your pet pace anxiously when it detects that you might be preparing to leave your home?  Does your pet engage in destructive behaviors or lose bladder or bowel control while you are gone?  Does your pet go wild with excitement when you return home?  If you answered yes to these questions, your pet may be experiencing separation anxiety.

Let’s face it, pets (especially dogs) are social animals.  As such, they can become quite attached to one or more of the humans in their household.  So much so that the departure of those humans can be quite traumatic.  And as humans, we love the loyalty and closeness of our pets.  

By way of full disclosure, I must confess that as I write this article, my dog is curled up right beside me in a chair.  And I love that she is here with me.  But I think you also get the point.  Sometimes because of our own desire for closeness with our pets we, can unintentionally reinforce that anxiety that can occur when we are not present.

So, let’s look at a few of the causes of pet separation anxiety and some tips to help reduce that anxiety.

- Causes:  

o A new pet that is being left alone for the first few times

o A change of owners.  Perhaps your pet came from a shelter or from a previous owner.

o A change of routine.  If you adopted your pet during the summer when everyone is home, that sudden change in the fall routine when kids go back to school can trigger anxiety.  Or perhaps you’ve been working from home and then return to working at your place of employment.  Any change in routine can throw your pet a curve.

o The loss of a family member.  Loss can occur in many forms.  It can occur through the death of a family member, through divorce or separation or even from a child going off to college.

- Treatment:  There are a number of treatments that can help your pet through separation anxiety.

o Try giving your pet a treat just before you leave to help ease your pet’s separation anxiety.

o Try to keep your leaving and returning as low key as possible.  In other words, don’t make a big deal of your leaving and resist the temptation to fawn all over your pet when you return.  It will also help if you avoid being overly affectionate with your pet during times when separation anxiety behaviors are being displayed.  Stated another way, you want to avoid reinforcing anxious behavior with your attention and affection.

o Try leaving an article of your recently worn clothing near a place where your pet would normally be.  If your pet has displayed a great deal of chewing behavior while you are gone, keep in mind that the article of clothing must be something you could live without if it ends up being chewed on.

o It may be helpful to try over the counter calming supplements.  If your pet’s anxiety is extreme, you may want to discuss a prescription medication with your veterinarian.  In addition to recommending the right medication, your veterinarian will also be able to provide further behavioral tips as well as rule out a possible medical reason for your pet’s anxiety.  

The tips we have shared should help get you started on the road to helping relieve your pet’s separation anxiety.  For more comprehensive information, we’ve referenced three excellent articles for further reading.  If your pet is experiencing a significant amount of separation anxiety, we recommend that you read each of the articles we have referenced.  


Photo by Denniz Futalan from Pexels

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