Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Separation Anxiety in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost
Separation Anxiety in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What is Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is one of the most common behavioral problems seen in dogs. With this condition, simply going through the motions of getting ready to leave the house can make your dog anxious and upset, and by the time you're ready to go out the door, they're flustered and fearful.

However, it can be easy to confuse separation anxiety with other types of anxiety seen in dogs. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is when your pet is never truly relaxed or calm, but their fear heightens with certain stimuli like thunderstorms, separation, or strangers. Separation anxiety, on the other hand only exhibits itself when the pet is left alone. Sadly, this anxiety can result in harmful and destructive activities that can lead to property damage or self-injury. Your dog may have broken teeth, scraped or chewed paws, and torn nails, or may eat something from a chewed-up shoe or piece of furniture. 

Separation anxiety can begin at any age and appears in all breeds. The length of time it will take to treat can vary greatly, but fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent it. Behavior modification will go a long way in helping your dog as long as you stay consistent and patient. In severe cases, your vet may also recommend medication. 

Untreated, separation anxiety can cause tremendous emotional distress. It’s not a case of your dog simply being disobedient. Let’s dig a little deeper into how separation anxiety appears and how it can be treated.

Separation Anxiety Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $200 - $1,500

Average Cost

$350

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

If these symptoms are triggered when you leave your pet, or begin while you are getting ready to leave, they may signal separation anxiety. If these behaviors occur randomly or while you are home and not preparing things to leave, ie grabbing car keys or packing a bag, it could be something else entirely. Symptoms of separation anxiety can include:

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Causes of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

There is no conclusive evidence as to what causes separation anxiety in dogs. Some dogs may have a genetic predisposition to anxiety that may be triggered by a change or trauma. Here is a list of possible causes that seem to lead to separation anxiety disorder.

  • Puppy or new rescue who is not yet used to household routine or being alone
  • Change in their owner's routine that results in the dog being left alone more often than before
  • Change in the dog’s daily routine
  • A move to a new residence
  • A new addition to the family, canine or human, that may make your dog feel as though they are receiving less attention than usual
  • Having a member of the family leave the household: a child going off to college, a divorce, or a death in the family
  • Being abandoned or otherwise changing ownership
  • History of abuse
  • Lack of socialization
  • A traumatic experience that occurred while they were alone

Any dog can experience separation anxiety. Some breeds, however, are more prone to it than others, especially those that are high-energy or those that are bred specifically to be companion dogs. Dogs who have a strong pack mentality are also more prone to issues with separation anxiety. Breeds who commonly experience separation anxiety include:

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Diagnosis of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

If you suspect your pet is exhibiting signs of separation anxiety, it’s a good idea to schedule a visit with your veterinarian. The signs and symptoms of separation anxiety are similar to signs of other physical problems and the veterinarian will want to rule out any underlying causes of the behavior before diagnosing separation anxiety.

Some of the behavioral symptoms that occur with separation anxiety can simply be from incomplete training or boredom. If these things are happening while you are at home, separation anxiety is not likely to be the cause. You may want to film your pet’s behavior on a camera while you are away or listen outside for behaviors when your pet thinks you have left.

The veterinarian may recommend laboratory tests to determine any underlying causes of the behavior and ensure it will be safe to prescribe certain medications for your pet if needed. Tests may include a complete blood cell count, biochemistry, thyroid test, and urinalysis.

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Treatment of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

The most common treatments for separation anxiety include anti-anxiety medication, behavior modification and compression wraps, often in combination. Behavioral conditioning may be attempted alone first in mild cases. Anti-anxiety medication can help the pet calm down enough to learn the behavior modifications in more severe cases.

Behavior Modification

The veterinarian can recommend behavioral modification exercises for you to begin at home with your pet. You may also be referred to a certified animal behaviorist. Patience and consistency in performing the exercises are key as they may take weeks or months to be effective.

Some behavior modification exercises include only rewarding the dog with pets or treats when they’re calm or quiet, ignoring them when they’re rambunctious, performing leaving activities like putting on your shoes or getting the keys even when you’re not leaving, or turning on the television or soft music you’re when leaving. Scolding or punishment is not appropriate for the treatment of separation anxiety and can make the condition worse.

Treatment is focused on getting the pet to enjoy being left alone. Providing special toys, food puzzles, meals, or special treats only when you leave, and refusing to greet your pet when you come home until they calm down can be helpful. Severe cases may require some very gradual desensitization. You can start to work with your pet by leaving the room for five minutes, then increasing it to 15 minutes, until you can leave for hours without him getting upset.

Exercise

Regular exercise can help the pet to relax when you leave the home. How much exercise your dog needs can vary depending on their breed, age, and health. Most healthy adult dogs need between 30 minutes and 3 hours. Taking your dog for a short walk or having an active play session before you leave may help to tire them out and let them relax while you are gone. 

Compression wraps

Another technique involves compression wraps, like the Thundershirt, that can be placed on your dog and gives them the rewarding feeling of a hug. While the concept seems simple, this game-changer can eliminate separation anxiety in many dogs alone, or in combination with other methods. Simply get your dog used to the compress wrap first in several small sessions with it on your dog while you are home and relaxing. Start with 5 minutes, then remove. Then leave it on for 10 mins, and then longer and longer each time. Give your dog treats and lots of attention, play games or do other fun things to help your dog associate the wrap with good feelings. 

Once your dog can go about their day without noticing the wrap is on, then you can use it for when they are alone. Put the wrap on before you take steps to get ready to leave, and leave it on your dog until after you get home. Over time, symptoms of separation anxiety should decrease or disappear entirely. 

Pheromones

Dog-appeasing pheromones are secreted when a mother dog is lactating and feeding her puppies. Some pets respond well to the use of pheromone sprays, diffusers, or collars. They can naturally help calm down nervous dogs and reduce separation anxiety. Simply spray near areas your dog hangs out in, such as their favorite spot by the front door, near their bed or toys, or place a diffuser near those areas.

Medications

Anti-anxiety medications like Fluoxetine or Trazadone may take several weeks to show effects. Shorter-acting drugs like Alprazolam may be prescribed at first until the other drugs take effect.

Medications for anxiety must be given according to veterinarian instructions, preferably at the same times every day. Medications must never be discontinued without instructions from the veterinarian. Annual blood work to examine liver function may be required to continue some medications long-term.

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Worried about the cost of Separation Anxiety treatment?

Pet Insurance covers the cost of many common pet health conditions. Prepare for the unexpected by getting a quote from top pet insurance providers.

Recovery of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Treatment for separation anxiety can be very effective if behavioral modification exercises are practiced regularly and according to instructions. Be patient with your pet and give them time to learn there is no need to fear you leaving and that time spent alone is rewarded with special treats and toys.

Medications, rotating toys daily to prevent boredom and intense exercise sessions may need to be continued for the life of your pet. Other alternatives include bringing your pet with you or having a dog sitter come to the house while you are away.

Crate training is helpful if the pet enjoys the crate and is not fearful of it. Some dogs feel more comfortable and safe in an enclosed space when their owners are away.

Separation anxiety can be expensive to treat. If you suspect your dog is at risk, start searching for pet insurance today. Wag!’s pet insurance comparison tool lets you compare plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Embrace. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

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Cost of Treating Separation Anxiety

The cost of treating separation anxiety can range from $200 - $1,500. 

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Separation Anxiety Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $200 - $1,500

Average Cost

$350

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Separation Anxiety Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Moxie

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Rottweiler Mix

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3 Years

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0 found helpful

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0 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Chewing, Scratching
Chewing

I adopted a 3 yr old Rott/Cattle dog mix a few months ago. I work all day and have someone to let her and my 14 yr old dog out around lunch time. At first I could leave her in the living room but after a couple of weeks she started chewing and destroying rings in the living room. I started putting her in her crate which she goes right into. She chews her blanket and sheet and recently has started to scratch the carpet under the crate (took out the hard rubber mat since she was chewing that up). She doesn't seem to be anxious when I leave, so I can't figure out if she is just bored or had separation anxiety. Thoughts?

June 29, 2018

Moxie's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Behavioural issues like this can be difficult to get to the bottom of, however recording her in her crate while you’re at work may give you some insight into what is going on with her. I cannot say if she is bored, frustrated or has separation anxiety. Check the link below and at the bottom of the article there is a section where you may ask a certified dog trainer a question if you need follow up. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM https://wagwalking.com/training/stop-separation-anxiety

June 30, 2018

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Diesel

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Retriever, Labrador mix

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9 Months

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1 found helpful

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1 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Scratching
Howling/Barking
Anxiety
Urinating In House
Pooping In House

Ever since we adopted our dog, he has had behavioral problems, specifically when we leave him alone. We tried to crate train him but have recently given up because the situation has only gotten worse. We have resorted to letting him stay in the living room while we are gone, but he is still having problems. There is another dog in the home, and he doesn’t have these problems at all, but the other dog also doesn’t help the problem. Our dog, Diesel, will howl/bark non-stop when left alone, pee and poop in the house, and scratch around doors. We make sure to leave him some toys that he can play with and try to calm him down before we leave, but he can tell that we’re leaving and won’t calm down. I don’t know what else to do because it seems like we’ve tried everything.

Jan. 18, 2018

Diesel's Owner

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1 Recommendations

It can be difficult to reduce anxiety in a dog like this but there is no quick fix; you need to build up your absences over time but leaving the room multiple times and returning a few seconds later (do this on different occasions but each time make a fuss of him so he knows that you are leaving, then over time increase the length of your absences so that he learns slowly that you’re coming back. It can be boring and repetitive but there is no effective one stop pill for this. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Jan. 18, 2018

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Separation Anxiety Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $200 - $1,500

Average Cost

$350

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