Contribution from freelance writer Sally Writes
20-40% of all dogs are estimated to experience separation anxiety at some point in their lives (College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign). Separation anxiety is a serious behavioral problem that has a critical impact on pets and their owners. Some signs of anxiety and stress are destructive behavior, self-harm, restlessness, and an inability to eat. While pet owners might see these behaviors as being vindictive, they are not. They are symptoms that your pet is stressed and unhappy when you are away. If you are a pet owner and notice that your dog exhibits certain symptoms of separation anxiety, there are things that you can do to improve care and help cope with stress for an overall wellbeing.
The Causes of Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety among pets is not well understood. A few existing research studies indicate that dogs that are abandoned and/or abused like rescue animals are likely to feel anxious. Certain breeds of dog are also susceptible to the disorder such as Labrador Retrievers or German Shepherds. Emotional distress is the primary reason for anxiety disorder and manifests when the owner is absent or not around. If you notice that your pooch suddenly starts whining or pacing as soon as you put on your shoes or grab your coat in preparation to leave the house, they might be feeling anxious. What you see when you are back home might even confirm your suspicion that your dog has a separation anxiety issue. Is your sofa chewed in several places? Maybe, you’ll find feces and urine that are more frequent when you are away. Your dog also becomes hyperactive, starts barking, howling and scratching without good reason. These are the typical symptoms of separation anxiety. It makes you both nervous and unhappy which is why you should get help immediately.
What You Can Do to Help
As soon as you feel that something is not right with the behavior of your beloved pooch, talk to the vet and discuss the symptoms. Your dog’s doctor can confirm the problem and will prescribe treatment options. Each dog is different and will require a treatment plan suited to exhibited symptoms and their severity. There are two treatment options that your vet will propose. One involves medication and the other is medication and/or training. Clomipramine and fluoxetine are the most common types of medications prescribed for anxiety.
In addition to prescribed treatments, you can also make your departures and arrivals less stressful for Fido. If you are going on a trip, prepare your things the night before without the presence of your pet. Limit your interactions with your dog before leaving. Try to make departures short in the beginning and gradually increase them. Is your furry friend’s destructive behavior costing you money? Confine them to a room or a gated garden and provide interactive toys that will keep them reasonably occupied. Make sure the room/area is comfortable (not too cold or hot) and there is a place where they can lie down and relax. Reward with treats to reinforce good behavior. Some pet owners also report success with body wraps that soothe dogs experiencing stress and anxiety.
Your dogs are valuable and loved members of your family. When they are going through an emotional problem, supporting them with the proper medication (if needed) and training will reduce separation anxiety. Patience and a lot of love also work for, after all, they are just crying for help.