What is Separation Anxiety?
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Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Separation anxiety can be considered if the abnormal behaviors only occur when the owner has left the pet. If these behaviors occur while the owner is present, the behavior is not likely due to separation anxiety. Symptoms of separation anxiety include:
- Urination or defecation in odd places
- Whining, barking or howling
- Scratching or digging
- Pacing or circling
- Anxiety when owner prepares to leave the house
- Chewing and tearing up property
- Destruction around doors or windows (attempt to escape)
Causes of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
There is no conclusive evidence as to what causes the development of separation anxiety in dogs. The following is a list of possible causes that seem to lead to separation anxiety disorder.
- Change in owner work schedule
- Change in daily routine
- Change in residence
- Change in household members (death, birth)
- Change of guardian or family
- History of abuse
- Lack of socialization
Diagnosis of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
If you suspect your pet is exhibiting signs of separation anxiety, you should have a consultation by scheduling an appointment with a 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.
Incontinence can be caused by a number of factors. Medications can also cause the pet to have accidents. Excitement can cause the pet to urinate in the house. Incomplete house training or marking can also be the cause. Puppies will chew and dig unless they are trained not to. Boredom can also cause similar symptoms. Barking can be a result of unfamiliar sights and sounds.
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 to be sure it will be safe to prescribe certain medications for your pet. Tests may include a complete blood cell count, biochemistry, thyroid test, and urinalysis.
Treatment of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
The most successful treatment for separation anxiety is a combination of anti-anxiety medication and behavior modification. 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 is key as they may take weeks or months to be effective.
Some behavior modification exercises include only rewarding the pet with petting or treats when calm or quiet, ignoring the pet when rambunctious, performing leaving activities like putting on shoes or getting keys even when not leaving, turning on television or soft music when leaving. 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 it calms down can be helpful.
Severe cases may require you to work with your pet by leaving the room for five minutes, then increasing it to 15 minutes and so on until you can leave for hours without him getting upset (desensitization).
Scolding or punishment is not appropriate for treatment of separation anxiety and can make the condition worse.Exercise
Regular exercise (2 hours per day if possible) can help the pet to relax when you leave the home.Pheromones
Some pets respond well to the use of pheromone sprays, diffusers or collars. The smell of pheromones creates a calming effect in the brain.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.
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 the pet. Other alternatives include bringing your pet to work with you, having a dog sitter come to the house, or taking your pet to a doggy day care 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 owners are away.
Separation Anxiety Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
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.
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I got two dogs from a rescue for weeks ago. After putting up 4 different kinds of gates in the home we are now at a point where we are starting crate training. He continues to jump 4 feet up in my garage and I am afraid he will go through a window. He also got in one of our closed bedroom doors and urinated on the bed yesterday. The bedroom I have been leaving open for training he has never urinated on the bed. I am at the point where I will have to crate train him because he is ruining my home and I am afraid he will hurt himself or the other dog I adopted him with because he finds new ways to get into glass object etc. and breaks them. I have a dog door to the outside that I have not let him use since he has this issue unless I am home. Maybe he is trying to get outside.
I am afraid since he is escaping my baby gates that he may also escape my yard.
Behavioural problems in dogs can run deep, especially in dogs from shelters with unknown histories or backgrounds. Crate training is useful for restricting movement but may also trigger other behavioural problems (increased anxiety etc…). Which toys Bo has to play with, and rotation of toys (to prevent bordem) may be important. Remember that behavioural issues are complex and can take time to change; finding the right training method may take time. Speaking with a dog behaviourist to observe Bo’s behaviour may be useful. It is possible to medicate Bo (as a last resort) and slowly wean him off as his behaviour improves; this option should be discussed with your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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