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Separation Anxiety in Pets

A sad dog waiting for his owners to come home.

Separation anxiety in pets is a fairly common issue faced by many pet owners today. It is triggered when a pet is separated from their owner or the person they are most bonded to. It is typically characterised by signs of distress and destructive behavior.

Signs of Separation Anxiety

Realising that your pet is suffering from separation anxiety can sometimes be difficult because you are not there to see the behaviour taking place. This often results in the behaviours being misunderstood for bad or naughty behaviour with the underlying cause being overlooked. Common signs that you pet may be suffering from separation anxiety include;

  • Excessive salivation
  • Trembling or shaking.
  • Barking, howling, meowing, calling out and/or whining.
  • Toileting issues ie. urinating or defecating in the house.
  • Destructive behaviour like chewing, digging, scratching at floors, furniture or doors.
  • Coprophagia (eating faeces)
  • Restlessness and/or pacing a particular route repeatedly, like the fence line.
  • Escaping, or attempting to escape, either jumping fences, digging under fences or pushing through gates or fences.

Causes

It is not always know what the exact cause or trigger of separation anxiety is. Some young animals may suffer mildly when they are initially removed from their mother and/or litter and while finding their place in a new home. This young age separation anxiety will usually settle down as the animal matures and realises that you are returning. Other triggers to the development of separation anxiety can include; moving house, change in schedule, a traumatic or frightening event or a change in the people living in a household. Animals that have been surrendered to animal shelters, rescued or had a change of guardian can also be more likely to develop separation anxiety.

How to help

Dealing with separation anxiety can be stressful and difficult for the owner and family involved. Thankfully there are things you can do to change your pets behaviour and help them to remain calm and relaxed when you are not around. Some tips that might help improve separation anxiety include;

  • Ignoring attention seeking behaviour
  • Rewarding calm and relaxed behaviour
  • Do not make a huge deal about leaving, avoiding excessive pats and cuddles, just leave.
  • Desensitization to the departure process, ie the make the pre-leaving steps seem like regular daily occurrences without leaving, like getting the car keys, putting shoes on etc. Be careful when doing this as you don’t want to cause more fear.
  • Distraction with a selection of toys, treats and treat toys.
  • Provide a calm, secure and safe place for them.
  • For dog’s a product called Adaptil D.A.P which is available in a collar or diffuser delivery system may also help. Adaptil is a synthetic copy of the natural canine appeasing pheromone proven to help support dogs in a range of stressful situations. Zylkene Capsules is another product that has proven very popular for helping anxiety in dogs. Zylkene contains a natural product derived from casein, a protein in milk which is known to promote the relaxation of newborns after breastfeeding.
  • It may also be necessary to have some medical intervention to help calm the pet during periods of extreme distress. It is always best to discuss these options with your vet first.

If these are not helping or the separation anxiety is extreme, getting worse, an unlivable situation or dangerous for the pet or people please contact your veterinarian for further advice. An animal behaviourist may also be able to help with diagnosis and put in place some processes to follow to improve the anxiety. Please remember that separation anxiety is not just bad or bored behaviour it is a condition that the pet typically has little to no control over.

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Originally published in My Pet Magazine Issue 15, Autumn/Winter 2018.
To view all issues of My Pet Magazine click here.

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