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Separation Anxiety in Pets

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 and typically characterised by signs of distress and destructive behavior.

It can sometimes be hard to know that your pet is suffering from separation anxiety because you aren’t there to see the behaviour and the signs can often be mistaken for bad behaviour. 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.

It is usually not known what the underlying cause or trigger is for a pet to develop separation anxiety. Many young animals will 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.

Dealing with separation anxiety can be stressful and difficult for the owner and family involved. The ideal outcome would be to see the pet staying calm and relaxed when the owner (or person they are attached too) is absent. Some tips that might help achieve this 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. This needs to be handled with care 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. It 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. It contains a natural product derived from casein, a protein in milk. It is a molecule well 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.

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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