After months of disruption for owners and their pets, life is beginning to return to normal. This means that many people are starting to go back to work and kids are getting ready to go back to school. However, this return to normality can be a big change for our pets, who have got used to constant company. As a result, some of our pets may now struggle to cope with being left on their own again and may go on to show signs of separation anxiety.
Does my pet suffer from separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a behavioural condition most frequently recognised in dogs. This results in affected pets becoming abnormally stressed, and showing undesirable behaviours, when they are left. The signs of separation anxiety can range from mild to severe, but because these signs may only be shown when pets are alone, it can sometimes be difficult to detect affected individuals.
As dogs are the most common pet to suffer from separation anxiety, the rest of the article will discuss managing dogs with this condition. However, it is possible that cats can also show behaviour changes related to being left on their own, so if you have a pet who is showing signs of distress when left, then you should contact our practice so your pet can be assessed by one of our vets.
Signs of separation anxiety
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety can show a range of behaviours including;
● Chewing and other destructive behaviours
● Vocalisation – barking or howling
● Loss of toilet training
● Following a certain family member constantly around the house
● Extreme excitement when you return home
Though these behaviours are undesirable, it is important that your dog is never punished for displaying them, as this will not help your pet and will quickly make the behaviour worse.
How can I prevent separation anxiety?
There are a number of steps that can be followed to help prepare pets for being left on their own when their owners return to work and school. This advice is useful for puppies who may never have spent time on their own before but it can also be used for older dogs who may not have been left recently.
Steps to help dogs get used to being left on their own
● Provide your dog with a safe area. This should be an area of the house that they can access at all times. Ideally, this area should be safe from chewing and easy to clean. Make this space comfortable for your pet by including their bed, and food and water bowls. If you have children, then make sure that they never disturb your dog in this safe area.
● Gradually get your dog used to being left on their own. Start by leaving your dog for a short duration of time. Once your dog is comfortable with this then you can slowly increase the length of time that your pet is left. If at any stage your dog starts showing signs of distress, go back a step until these signs resolve.
● Use treat toys filled with food, such as a Kong toy, to distract your pet when you are leaving.
● Ensure your dog has sufficient exercise every day to help keep them calm when left.
● Pheromones, such as an Adaptil diffuser, can be used long term, near your pet’s safe area, to help keep them calm.
How can I help my pet deal with separation anxiety?
Owners can find it difficult and distressing to live with a dog suffering from separation anxiety, but with the right training and advice, most dogs will improve. However, there is no quick fix for separation anxiety, so owners should expect a gradual improvement in their pet over time.
For dogs suffering from separation anxiety there are a number of steps that owners can follow in the short term to help with day to day life.
● Try to avoid leaving your dog on their own if they are showing severe signs of separation anxiety. If possible, ask another family member to sit with your pet when you are out, or consider taking your pet with you if you can. Alternatively, if you have to leave your pet, consider using a dog walker to check in on them for you.
● Leave your dog in their safe area to ensure that they are comfortable and cannot harm themselves. This will also minimise any potential damage to the rest of your house.
● Keep your leaving routine calm to help prevent your dog from anticipating that you are about to leave. Pack bags and the car the night before and change into uniforms away from the house if possible.
● Use food filled toys, such as Kong toys, to distract your dog when you are leaving.
● Exercise your dog before they are due to be left to help keep them calm while you are away.
● Consider taking part in dog training classes, such as agility. This will provide your pet with mental stimulation, which will help them settle.
Dogs who are suffering from severe signs of separation anxiety may need a referral to a Veterinary Behaviourist registered with the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, who may prescribe medication alongside specialist behavioural advice. If you feel that your pet is showing signs of separation anxiety, or you are concerned about your pet’s behaviour at home, then you should speak to one of our vets for advice.
Treating separation anxiety needs long term commitment from owners, but while progress might be slow, particularly for severe cases, the majority of dogs will go on to show a significant improvement or even resolution of their signs. During your pet’s treatment, our veterinary team are always here to support you and your pet, so you can always contact us if you are worried about your pet.