Separation anxiety isn’t a fun experience for you or your pet. If your pet suffers from separation anxiety, it is likely that you frequently return home to chaos and damaged belongings. These behaviors can even lead to your pet injuring themselves due to their anxiety. Fortunately, there are many potential ways that you can help your pet with separation anxiety. To help your pet with separation anxiety, it is important to understand the symptoms and the best steps to take to help them with these emotions.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
There are several signs that indicate separation anxiety in your pet. It is important to note that these behaviors happen consistently, not just once. These behaviors won’t occur in the owner’s presence and can even lead to self-injury, which is why it is important to try to help your pet with separation anxiety. Some symptoms of separation anxiety include destructive behavior, indoor accidents, intense pacing, attempts to escape, and excessive barking. Some of these behaviors can be caused by medical conditions, so it is important to have these ruled out when attempting to diagnose separation anxiety. For example, certain medications can cause urinary incontinence, so accidents in the home may not be the result of separation anxiety.
What Causes Separation Anxiety?
There is no one specific cause for separation anxiety, but there are many factors that often result in separation anxiety or increase the likelihood of anxiety developing. For one thing, dogs that have been in a shelter are more likely to have separation anxiety. This is often because they have experienced feelings of abandonment and losing a loved one. Some breeds are more susceptible to separation anxiety than others. Life changes, such as a new house or change in routine, can lead to the development of separation anxiety. New pets may also have difficulty adjusting to the home, so it is useful to take the steps to help them in their adjustment to your home.
Tips for Helping your Pet with Separation Anxiety
When a pet has separation anxiety, it is likely that they are conditioned to react anxiously and destructively whenever you leave. This reaction can be minimized when you take the steps to counter this conditioning and create a more positive reaction. Ultimately, the point of this is to teach your pet that separation has its rewards. Try to leave their favorite treats around the house for the pet to find when you have left. You may also want to use puzzle toys to keep them occupied for the first little while that you’re away.
Ensure that you exercise your dog regularly, especially if they have separation anxiety. If you don’t have the time to take them for extremely long walks, you may want to add a weighted dog backpack to help them work out their excess energy. A tired, content dog is more likely to settle down after you leave, rather than engage in destructive behaviors.
In severe cases, medication may become necessary to calm your dog when you are gone. Consult with us to determine if this is the best recourse for your pet.
Natural supplements are also available to invoke feelings of calm in your pet. These supplements may also be implemented to help a pet that experiences significant amounts of stress when left alone.
Don’t Make a Big Deal Out of Absence
If you make a big deal every time that you leave, your pet will similarly assume that it is a big deal. This can simply exacerbate their feelings of anxiety whenever you leave. If you feel like you have to say goodbye before you leave, ensure that you do it a set period of time before you leave so that they don’t associate it with your leaving. In addition, you shouldn’t make a big deal about coming home. Greet your pet and refrain from giving them too much attention until after they have calmed down. Your behavior is likely to have a significant impact on the behavior of your pets.
Take Separation in Steps
If your pet experiences significant amounts of separation anxiety, you should complete the therapeutic process in steps. First, try leaving your pet alone for 5 minutes at a time. Gradually increase the time until they can successfully be alone for about an hour before showing any signs of distress. Most of the destructive behavior occurs during this time frame, so a pet that can be alone for around an hour will likely be just fine for longer periods of time.
Refrain From Punishment
Punishment won’t help with separation anxiety. Separation anxiety isn’t caused by disobedience, but is a result of extreme stress. Punishing your pet for experiencing this stress is likely to only exacerbate their negative emotions. Primarily use positive reinforcement and other techniques to prevent the condition from escalating. Never punish your pet for becoming stressed and overwhelmed when you leave.
In severe situations, it may become necessary to use a combination of approaches to help your pet with separation anxiety. Often, the most effective course of action is to combine conditioning with medication. You may also want to consult a professional animal behaviorist to help you with the conditioning and easing the symptoms of your pet’s separation anxiety. In extreme situations, you should consult with an expert to ensure that treatment can be completed as effectively as possible.
Here at Borrett Animal Hospital, we strive to ensure that your pet maintains the best possible health, both physical and mental. Separation anxiety can significantly detract from their quality of life, especially when they have to be left alone regularly. If you think your pet may require medication or more intensive treatment to help with their separation anxiety, bring them in to see us at Borrett Animal Hospital.