Definition of Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety in pets is a psychological condition that results in extreme panic and agitation when their owner is gone. While it can affect both dogs and cats, it is considered rare in cats. Pets of all ages, sexes, and breeds have been diagnosed with separation anxiety. Pets that have suffered from abuse and neglect are more likely to develop separation anxiety. The diagnosis of separation anxiety is based upon the dog’s history, symptoms, and response to behavior modification techniques and prescription medications. Blood tests may also be used to rule out any medical cause of the symptoms.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Signs of separation anxiety usually begin immediately once the pet owner has left or is getting ready to leave, and they are at their worst during the first 30 minutes of the owner’s absence. Clinical signs of separation anxiety include constant whining or barking when the pet owner is gone. The dog may also constantly pace, repeatedly get up and down, salivate excessively, defecate or urinate in inappropriate areas, experience vomiting or diarrhea, and in some cases exhibit destructive behaviors. However, in many cases dog owners confuse destructive behavior which occurs due to boredom and lack of exercise with separation anxiety.
Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs
The best treatment for separation anxiety includes intense behavior modification techniques begun as soon as symptoms of separation anxiety develop. Dog owners will need to learn how to reduce their pet’s stress, help their dogs to focus on something else when they leave, and to encourage confidence in their pet. In severe cases prescription medications may be used to help the animal cope with separation anxiety symptoms.
One way to possibly correct separation anxiety is to recruit the help of a dog sitter who can interact with the patient and provide the necessary distractions whenever the owner leaves the house. In this way, the dog will be unable to focus on destructive behavior and will gradually become desensitized to the owner's absence.
Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety should also be enrolled in an obedience-training course so that their level of confidence both in themselves and their owner is increased. Punishment must be avoided. However, many owners inadvertently reward separation anxiety by comforting and reassuring their dogs when they return home. This should be avoided and homecomings should be kept low key.
The amount of time spent with the dog by the owner should also be decreased to a level where the dog can become less dependent on the owner for stimulation. This can be accomplished by involving friends and neighbors in the day-to-day activities of the dog. Increased play time, more frequent walks away from home, and increased personal interaction can be done by friends in order to decrease the dog's dependence on the owner.
Finally, the dog with separation anxiety must be trained to be able to relax in a variety of environmental settings, both with and without the owner. By desensitizing the dog to new situations, he or she can be trained to accept new situations that should occur in the absence of the owner.
Modification with Medication
If all else fails, certain anxiety-reducing drugs are available from your veterinarian and can be used concurrently with behavior modification. The aim of behavior modification is to eventually allow reduction or cessation of the medication once the pet's abnormal behavior has been corrected.
Outlook for Dogs with Separation Anxiety
The prognosis for separation anxiety is excellent. While it can take many months of continual behavioral modification techniques before the condition is completely resolved, pets usually begin to respond immediately to intense behavioral modification remedies.