While dogs have loved their families spending more time at home, with them, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the other shoe is about to drop – and it might get chewed on. Separation anxiety in dogs describes a condition in which a dog exhibits behavior problems and distress when separated from its owner(s). The University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine reports that 20 to 40 percent of dogs exhibit this emotional distress.
We spoke with our Head Veterinarian Mary Altomare, DVM, about ways to reduce separation anxiety.
1) How do I know if my dog has separation problems / What are common symptoms?
Typically, you can expect anxious behaviors during the time the owner leaves until the owner arrives home. This can include but is not limited to excessive whining, barking, panting, pacing, and destructive behaviors (clawing or breaking the front door for example).
2) Why do some dogs develop separation anxiety?
Some breeds are more prone to separation anxiety than others – I see this a lot in the toy breeds as well as Shih Tzus, Maltese, cockapoos, and believe it or not my shepherd friends! However, really any dog can suffer from this and it can be from a variety of reasons. Animals that have been through a past trauma may be afflicted as well as those who are naturally anxious animals. When they find comfort in being in the company of an owner or owners, when they leave, it can be difficult for them to find an appropriate outlet to comfort themselves.
3) Can separation anxiety affect cats?
It can in extreme cases, however it affects dogs far more. Cats are naturally not pack animals and tend to be quite independent. Similarly, cats will show separation anxiety by excessively whining, vocalizing, and showing destructive behaviors such as scratching at doors or furniture when their owner(s) leave.
4) What to do if your dog has separation anxiety
If you suspect separation anxiety in your dog, reach out to your vet! The vet will check and make sure nothing is physically ailing your pet to exacerbate the anxious behavior. If none is found, they can guide you on some simple tricks and tips you can do at home to decrease stress in general and especially the stress of leaving. For example, an easy way to reduce stress is to increase exercise (just like humans!). Another great way to reduce stress when an owner leaves the home is to give a high reward treat that the pet only gets when the owner is gone. At times, the separation anxiety may be so pronounced that medical intervention is needed such as a low-dose anti-anxiety medication. With this medication, the owner can then enact a behavior modification plan to help the pet see there is nothing to fear when they are left by themselves. Most of these animals can be weaned off of this medication slowly over the course of a few months, however, there are cases that need to be on a very low dose for life. Either way, there is always something the veterinarians can do to help so do not hesitate to make an appointment at your local vet.
Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter is a registered 501(c)(3) organization that is solely funded by contributions, grants, and bequests. Donate today at http://www.njshelter.org/givenow.