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How to Help Your Pet with Separation Anxiety 

How to Help Your Pet with Separation Anxiety 

With COVID restrictions lifting, many people are starting to go back to work. However, many pet parents are concerned about leaving their animals after being home for over a year and dealing the difficult topic of separation anxiety. Let’s take a dive into what separation anxiety is, symptoms of separation anxiety, and treatment solutions to follow if your pet has this condition. 

What is Separation Anxiety? 

Separation anxiety is a serious condition your pet can develop where they express destructive or disruptive behaviors while you are absent for a long period of time. This problem for your pet is similar to a panic attack that humans can experience. These behaviors can include: 

  • Excessive barking or howling 
  • Anxious behaviors such as whining, shaking, or pacing 
  • Urinating or defecating in the house 
  • Exhibiting destructive behavior such as scratching, digging, or chewing on things, specifically in areas near windows or doors
  • Extreme panting, drooling, or salivating 
  • No interest in eating their food 

If your pet is experiencing the above symptoms on a regular basis, they may have separation anxiety. If your pet does have separation anxiety, then your goal as their guardian is to help resolve their anxiety by teaching them to tolerate or even enjoy being left alone. 

What Causes Separation Anxiety? 

There are many things that cause separation anxiety for your pet. Some of these things include:

  • Never being left alone before 
    • Specifically for young dogs
  • Sudden changes in routine or schedule 
  • Past traumatic experiences in the owner’s absence 
  • Change in residence 
  • Change in guardianship or family 
  • Sudden absence in a family member due to a death or a move 
     

Treatment Solutions for Separation Anxiety

There are two types of separation anxiety: minor and severe. Treatments can vary depending on what type your pet has. For minor separation anxiety, you can try the following:

  • Do not make a big deal out of arriving and leaving. 
  • Leave the shades open so your pet can see outside or give your pet a safe haven like a covered crate with the door open in the innermost part of your house, so they can get away from external noises and commotion. Strange sounds can often trigger or exacerbate separation anxiety.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about an over-the-counter calming product like Benadryl or herbal supplement like CBD. 
    • Make sure to consult with your veterinarian before giving your pet one of these.
  • Make sure your pet gets enough exercise. An average dog should get between 30 minutes-2 hours of exercise per day. 
  • Provide your pet with enrichment to keep them entertained. Examples include:
    • Treat dispensing ball 
    • Snuffle mat
    • KONG with frozen peanut butter or a treat inside
  • Put on the TV or the radio for your dog while you are gone. 
  • If they enjoy the company of other dogs, take your pup to doggie daycare for socialization.

For more severe separation anxiety, you can try the following:

  • Work with a trainer on an individualized desensitization plan.
    • This should only be done with the supervision of a trainer who can help you know when your dog is starting to show signs of subtle discomfort and who can develop training plans that are step-by-step and individualized.
    • Consult your veterinarian about the use of anti-anxiety medications. Some common medications include:
      • Trazodone
      • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
      • Diazepam (Valium)

It's important to understand that punishing your pet for having separation anxiety will not help you or them. It will make the situation worse. Additionally, separation anxiety cannot be 100 percent prevented, but with patience and a good attitude, you should be able to significantly reduce your pet’s separation anxiety. If you have tried some of the above ideas, or if you are planning to work with a professional trainer who specializes in treating separation anxiety, such as a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer or veterinary behaviorist, and nothing is working, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as your pet may have a more severe case of separation anxiety and may benefit from medication in addition to completing individualized training plan.

Looking for more help? 

Preventing and treating your dog’s separation anxiety can be challenging. Learn more from the Humane Rescue Alliance about how to teach your dog to live well when alone or connect with our behavior and training experts today.

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