Identifying & Preventing Separation Anxiety in Your Dog
Some dogs get upset when their pet parents leave. After all, they are a social species and generally don't like to be left alone for long periods of time. How can you tell whether your pup is merely bummed you're running an errand or is suffering from something more serious? Use the following to spot some of the warning signs of separation anxiety in dogs, and help prevent your pooch from feeling stressed or panicky when left alone.
Is It True Separation Anxiety?
Dogs with separation anxiety go beyond simply pouting or whining when you leave them. Separation anxiety can manifest in destructive or self-harming behaviours that may include soiling in the house, tearing up their surroundings, and even injuring themselves while attempting to get out. Other symptoms include vocalizing excessively, refusing to eat or drink, and incessant panting or salivating when left alone.
It's important to keep in mind, though, that many of these symptoms can also reflect other conditions, which makes separation anxiety hard to properly diagnose. If your dog relieves himself in the house while you're gone, for example, there are still a number of possible causes–including improper house training or incontinence due to a physical condition. Excessive panting, salivating, and refusing to eat could also signal another medical condition such as dehydration. Some dogs also simply get bored which may result in your belongings becoming collateral damage.
A red flag is if these behaviours only occur when your dog is left alone. However, it is always best to consult with a veterinarian to rule out causes such as a medical condition or the dog's age and personality. Sometimes the type of destructiveness can provide a clue to the underlying motivation. Chewing your favorite pair of shoes while you're gone may be an attempt to fill the lonely hours whereas if your dog chews and scratches the doorframe where you leave the house, this may be related to an attempt to get out and find you. New behaviours that your dog hasn't exhibited in the past are often an indication that something is wrong and it is always worth contacting a veterinarian or qualified animal behaviourist if you are concerned.
Preventing This Stress
Although there is ongoing research into why certain dogs feel this way compared to others, some triggers have been identified. According to the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, The Humane Society of the United States, these include:
- Poor socialisation as a puppy
- Your dog isn’t used to being left alone
- There has been a change in your household (builders, new home)
- Something has scared your dog (inside or outside the house)
A routine change, bereavement or other circumstances meaning a person or pet who they normally spend time with isn’t around. As far as it's in your power to do so, helping your dog cope if he's faced with any of these scenarios will prevent him from developing separation anxiety in the first place. For example, if any major changes occur at home, keep an eye on your dog’s mental state, give them a safe space to retreat to with some food puzzles and treat dispensing toys to keep them focused on something else and if your dog is a particularly sensitive soul, get some advice from a qualified behaviourist to help you with ways to help reassure your pooch that they are still safe and secure.
Overcoming problems associated with separation
If your dog is already suffering from separation anxiety, the key to dealing with this is to seek professional help from a veterinarian or qualified animal behaviourist.
A treatment plan may involve:
- Meeting your dog’s needs with adequate exercise, and sufficient mental and physical stimulation.
- Providing mentally stimulating toys, such as food or puzzle toys when you are out,.
- Teaching your dog to relax when alone
- Medication to minimise severe anxiety or panic.
With a proper diagnosis and holistic treatment plan, your pal stands an excellent chance of having calmer, happier alone time.
With a proper diagnosis and holistic treatment plan, your pal stands an excellent chance of having calmer, happier alone time.Contributor Bio
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is fiction author and freelance writer and editor living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She writes frequently about pets and pet health in her home office, where she is assisted by a lapful of furbabies.
Reviewed by Dr Aileen Pypers