Dogs and cats (but especially dogs) can experience a bit of sadness at the start of the school year. Their best friends who have been with them all summer are now gone for the better part of the day (or for a few months, if your kids are in college!). Such a big change in routine has the potential to trigger pet separation anxiety. This condition occurs primarily in dogs and results in a sense of fear and panic when you and your family leave the house. Our animal hospital in Carmel has come up with these tips to help reduce your pet’s anxiety.
Understanding Pet Separation Anxiety
In order to correctly treat pet separation anxiety, it’s important to first understand it. Separation anxiety and the distress behaviors that come with it can be compared to a panic attack in humans. Your dog is not simply behaving badly because he doesn’t want you to leave; he is having a panic attack. The reasons that dogs are often more affected than cats by separation anxiety are not completely clear, but it’s believed to link back to their pack instincts. Dogs in the wild live as part of a pack, and a dog alone is in a very dangerous situation, indeed. He’s vulnerable to attack from other predators and starvation since he can’t work with a pack to get food. As such, when you leave your dog home alone, he’s losing his pack and becomes fearful as a result.
Signs of Separation Anxiety
Common distress signs include:
- House soiling (only done when left alone)
- Destructive behavior (torn up furniture, chewed shoes, etc.)
- Escape attempts (digging or claw marks near doors and windows)
- Barking and howling excessively while alone
- Pacing in a circular or straight pattern
It can be difficult to catch some of these behaviors since they likely only happen when you’re not at home. However, signs of destructive behavior should be evident and you can also watch your dog’s behavior as you get ready to leave to see if they seem anxious.
Tips to Reduce Your Pet’s Anxiety
- Exercise your dog before you leave for the day. A tired dog is less likely to have the energy to be upset! It also keeps them from getting bored.
- Give them a special food puzzle filled with their favorite treat before you leave. This helps them associate good things with being left alone. Be sure to take it away the moment you come home, whether it’s finished or not.
- Likewise, you can also give your pet a special toy that they only get to play with while they’re alone. This helps them occupy their minds so they’re not focused on your departure.
- Don’t make a big deal about leaving or coming home. Excessive farewells and greetings will only reinforce your pet’s anxiety about being left alone. Make good-byes brief and when you come home, ignore your dog for a bit until they calm down.
- Make sure to set aside some time for your kids to play with your dog after school. This helps your dog have something to look forward to!
- If your pet suffers from more severe separation anxiety, talk to your veterinarian. We can prescribe an anti-anxiety medication to help keep them calm while you continue to work on training with them.
Contact us today at (317) 900-7723 for more information about pet separation anxiety!