Separation anxiety in dogs is diagnosed largely through a process of elimination. The attending veterinarian will take a thorough history of the dog’s behavior from its owner, followed by a complete physical examination. The detailed history is one of the most important parts of the diagnostic process for this disorder. Another cornerstone of diagnosing separation anxiety – and perhaps the most powerful diagnostic tool - is the use of videocameras. Videotaping the dog during its owner’s absence can show exactly what the dog is doing while its owner is gone, and also can identify any outside influences that may be provoking the dog’s behavior.
Many veterinarians will recommend taking a blood sample (for a complete blood count, a serum biochemistry profile and possibly a thyroid panel) and a urine sample (for a urinalysis). These tests can be useful to assess the dog’s overall health and possibly to help identify other causes of the animal’s symptoms. The results of these procedures in dogs with separation anxiety are typically within normal limits. This means that the results of blood and urine tests cannot diagnose separation anxiety, but they can help rule out other conditions that may be causing the dog’s symptoms.
Depending on the particular behaviors and/or physical abnormalities displayed by the dog, other diagnostic tests might include: skin scrapings or biopsies (if dermatologic disorders are suspected); radiographs (x-rays); and fecal evaluation or other tests of the digestive system (if gastrointestinal or parasitic conditions are suspected). If the dog is showing neurologic signs (tremors, shaking, pacing, circling, etc.), the veterinarian may recommend a full neurologic work up, possibly including sampling and assessment of cerebrospinal fluid and/or advanced imaging using computed tomography (CT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The diagnostic process for dogs with behavioral disorders is difficult at best, especially when the abnormal behaviors are accompanied by physical signs such as wounds, hair loss or other lesions. However, with patience and persistence, the process is almost always worthwhile.