5 min read

What is Isolation Anxiety in Dogs?

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Overview

If Fluffy demolishes the house when home alone but behaves perfectly when you hire a sitter, you may be dealing with a case of isolation anxiety. 

Dogs who exhibit anxious behaviors when away from their family often get diagnosed with separation anxiety. However, many of these dogs are actually suffering from a lesser-known condition called isolation anxiety (or isolation distress). 

To make matters even more confusing, some experts use these terms interchangeably. Separation and isolation anxiety are closely related and nearly identical symptom-wise, but there are some important distinctions that you should be aware of. Knowing the differences between these conditions will help you better address and treat the problem.


What is the difference between isolation anxiety and separation anxiety?

Isolation anxiety and separation anxiety share many similarities but have one main difference — what triggers the episode.

Separation anxiety occurs when a dog exhibits panic behaviors (like pacing and nervous chewing) after their pet parent leaves home. Unlike isolation anxiety, separation anxiety can occur even if other people or pets are in the home. When the primary caregiver leaves the dog in the care of other people or family members, dogs with separation anxiety will still perform anxious behaviors like whining, pacing, and refusing food. 

On the other hand, isolation anxiety only arises when a dog is completely alone with no other companions. Dogs with isolation anxiety will not exhibit any symptoms as long as they’re in the company of other humans or pets.

 

black french bulldog puppy chewing on a shoe

Symptoms of isolation anxiety

Below are some symptoms of isolation anxiety that typically arise while pet parents are getting ready to leave or shortly after leaving the dog home alone. 

*The destructive behaviors of separation and isolation anxiety are different from boredom chewing. Dogs with separation and isolation anxiety chew to mitigate stress or in an attempt to escape. Dogs with severe isolation anxiety may even chew their skin to cope with the stress of being alone — and since no one is there to stop them, they can cause serious lacerations and skin infections.


Causes of isolation anxiety in dogs

Isolation anxiety often results from a traumatic event, but the symptoms may appear seemingly out of nowhere. Below are some life experiences that may trigger isolation anxiety in dogs.

  • Life events that cause dogs to feel unsafe while alone

  • Experiencing an extreme weather phenomenon while home alone

  • Home invasions

  • Being placed in a shelter or being rehomed

  • Moving to a new home

  • Loss of a family member or fellow pet

  • Being removed from their littermates or mother too early     


small golden dog hiding behind wall - isolation anxiety in dogs

How to address isolation anxiety in dogs

Isolation anxiety can range from mild to severe, and what works for one dog may not work for another with a more extreme case. Here are a few things to try if your dog is diagnosed with isolation anxiety:

Try to stick to a schedule as often as possible.

This includes designating specific times for feeding, walking, and playing. Having a reliable routine will give your dog a sense of security and let them know what to expect from their day. 

Practice short periods of separation from your pets when you're at home.

You can do this by gating off your bedroom or living room while you're using that room. Gradually increase the length of separation periods while you're at home. Start with 5-minute periods of being away from your dog while at home, and gradually add a few minutes at a time until your dog is confident being separated from you for a couple of hours.

Consider using a baby monitor or camera system to keep an eye on your pet while you are practicing periods of separation (to see how they react and stop destructive tendencies when they start so you don't come back to shredded stuff).

Install security cameras.

Choose a camera system that allows you to access the video feed from your phone. Being able to see your dog's behaviors when no one is home can help you figure out how best to assist them. Furthermore, having video footage of your dog's symptoms will help your vet correctly diagnose and treat the condition.


black dog lying in crate - what is isolation anxiety

Crate train your dog while you're home before confining them for long periods while you're away.

You want the crate to be your dog's refuge, not a place of fear. However, thrusting a dog into an enclosure that they're unsure of can worsen isolation anxiety. For the best results, start working on crate training as soon as you bring a new dog into your household.

Turn on the radio or a show while you're away.

Adding a little background noise can help comfort some dogs while they're home alone.

Eliminate the fanfare surrounding greetings and departures.

We can't stress this enough. Stay calm and collected when leaving or first coming home. Enthusiastic hugs and kisses will only encourage your dog to have a heightened emotional state. Instead, do not acknowledge your woofer for 20 minutes before you leave or after you come home.    

Make sure your pup is getting an appropriate amount of exercise.

Animal behaviorists often "prescribe" more walks and daily exercise to help combat separation and isolation anxiety. If you don't have the time to meet your pup's exercise needs, consider booking a dog walker through Wag!.

Try leaving a food puzzle or stuffed toys out for your dog.

Food toys will keep nervous pups busy while they're home alone, thus reducing the risk of household destruction and emotional distress. Make sure you choose durable toys, especially if your dog is a heavy chewer. Pick chewies made out of hard rubber (like the Kong), so your dog won't be able to bite off and swallow pieces of the toy. 

Do not use physical or verbal punishment.

Negative reinforcement training methods won't prevent or correct unwanted behavior due to isolation distress. Spanking, yelling, and other adverse punishment methods can worsen behavioral issues and make dogs feel even more insecure in their surroundings. 

Seek help from a professional.

If your dog has a severe case, reach out to a professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist for guidance and solutions for dealing with your pet's anxiety.

Hire a dog sitter or schedule a drop-in visit.

Since dogs with isolation anxiety tend to do better with other people in the home, scheduling a Drop-In to see about Fido while you're away might be beneficial. 

If all else fails, talk to your vet.

Your vet may be able to prescribe anti-anxiety medication to help control your dog's symptoms and make them more comfortable in your absence.

Be prepared for anything

For most dogs, training is a walk in the dog park. But if you're having trouble with training, consider investing in pet insurance. Many plans cover prescribed behavior modification for conditions like separation and isolation anxiety. Likewise, pet insurance can help cover the cost of anxiety medication to minimize the symptoms of isolation anxiety. Plan ahead and start searching for pet insurance today.


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© 2022 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.


© 2022 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.