MARIA ST. LOUIS-SANCHEZ
Is your dog clingy? Does he whine or cry when you leave the house? Do you come home to find torn-up curtains? Are there deep scratches on your doors? If so, your dog may have separation anxiety.
It is often difficult to determine the cause of separation anxiety. Some pets are genetically predisposed, but there are many other causes, such as poor socialization, past neglect or abandonment, and changes in routine, to name a few.
Ask Your Veterinarian: Is it anxiety … or is it medical?
If your dog is destructive, barks or whines repetitively, or has elimination problems while you are home as well as while you are away, she may be suffering from an undiagnosed medical condition.
Before embarking on any behavior program, check with your veterinarian to confirm that the problem really is separation anxiety and not a physical illness.
When left alone, these dogs may show subtle signs, such as whining or loss of appetite, or they may develop destructive or even self-injurious behaviors, such as urinating in the house, destroying furniture, obsessively licking or chewing their bodies, or jumping out of windows.
Dogs with separation anxiety are often unfairly labeled as “bad” or thought to be spiteful, but they are actually suffering from uncontrollable fear, akin to panic attacks in humans, and scolding them will only make the problem worse.
Suzanne Hetts, PhD., a certified applied animal behaviorist in Littleton, Colo., said, “True separation anxiety problems don’t have quick fixes.”
But most pets can and should be helped.
According to Stefanie Schwartz, DVM, director of behavior services at VCA South Shore Animal Hospital in Massachusetts, even pets with mild separation anxiety experience real emotional distress and deserve relief.
If you think your pet may have this disorder, make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss the symptoms and possible treatments.
Most behaviorists will focus on relieving the animal’s distress through positive desensitization techniques and behavior and environmental modification. There are also prescription medications available from your veterinarian that can help ease your pet’s anxiety.
Hetts explained, “You have to deal with the underlying phobia.” The key to success is to be consistent with your actions and understand that changing the behavior will take time, she added.
Don’t Leave Me!
Signs of separation anxiety can include
- Howling, barking, panting, or whining as family members prepare to leave
- Destructiveness at doors and windows
- Vomiting or incontinence when left alone
- Trembling or restlessness
- Excessive salivation
- Reluctance to spend time outdoors alone
- Loss of appetite when alone
- Prolonged excitement during homecomings
For more information about separation anxiety and tips on how to work with your pet at home, ask your veterinarian for the pamphlet, “Home Alone: Solving Separation Anxiety Problems,” from AAHA Press.
AAHA, "Dogs and Separation Anxiety"
Separation Anxiety: A Destructive Mental Illness
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 3 Issue 5, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.