Effects of Separation Anxiety
The primary complaint by owners of dogs with separation anxiety is that their pet engages in extremely destructive behaviors, vocalizes and soils in the house when the owner is absent. Regardless of the specific expression of the disorder in any given case, separation anxiety usually is extremely frustrating and difficult for dog owners to live with. It also takes a huge toll on the affected animal, both mentally and physically.
Symptoms of Canine Separation Anxiety
Owners of dogs with separation anxiety report a range of abnormal behaviors engaged in by their pets when they are not present. The length of the owner’s absence seems to be irrelevant to the severity of the dog’s reaction to that separation. Dogs suffering from separation anxiety may display some or all of the following symptoms or behaviors:
- Chewing and destruction of household objects, such as furniture, carpet, shoes, walls and the like. Window sills, doors and personal possessions of the owner are frequent targets.
- Inappropriate vocalization (barking, howling, whining)
- Inappropriate elimination, which may involve urination and/or defecation in the house or in other inappropriate areas
- Bouts of diarrhea that are not readily explainable
- Attempts to escape from their environment (house, crate, yard, kennel, car, etc.), which frequently cause self-trauma
- Attempts to prevent their owner from leaving the house
- Excessive excitement and prolonged greeting activities when their owner returns home, regardless of how long she has been gone
- Lack of appetite (anorexia; inappetance)
- Drooling (excessive salivation)
- Shivering, shaking, twitching
- Licking to the point of self-injury
- Scratching to the point of self-injury
- Chewing to the point of self-injury
- Broken teeth
- Torn or broken nails
- Elevated heart rate (tachycardia)
- Respiratory distress (tachypnia; rapid shallow breathing; difficulty breathing)
Many of the symptoms or behaviors can be caused by conditions other than separation anxiety. However, once underlying medical diseases are ruled out, separation anxiety moves up on the list of possible causes.
Dogs At Increased Risk
Separation anxiety usually becomes evident around the time of sexual and social maturity, which in dogs is between 12 and 36 months of age, depending on the breed. Dogs that have been neglected or abused, either physically or emotionally, are at an increased risk of developing this disorder. Dogs that have had a particularly traumatic experience while their “person” was away, such as a fire, a burglary, fireworks, sirens, thunderstorms, lightening storms, a dog fight or other unusually stressful events, are more prone to develop a sudden onset of separation anxiety as well. Other suggested at-risk dogs include those that have spent a significant amount of time in animal shelters or boarding facilities; those that have been moved from home to home and from owner to owner multiple times; and those that spend prolonged periods of time confined in isolation from contact with humans or other animals. Elderly dogs also seem to be overrepresented.