Up to 40% of dogs evaluated by veterinary behavioral specialists suffer from separation anxiety. In this guide, we will cover causes, prevention, and how to manage this condition. Here is the table of contents:
- Signs of Separation Anxiety
- Causes of Canine Separation Anxiety
- Conditions That Mirror Separation Anxiety
- Keep a Diary/Journal of Your Dog’s Behavior
- Treatment for Canine Separation Anxiety
Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
According to Care Center Vets, the following behaviors are signs of separation anxiety:
- Obvious anxiety as you prepare to leave
- Excessive happiness when you return home
- Refusal to eat or drink
- Excessive vocalization
- Excessive drooling
- Inappropriate elimination
- Obsessive attempts to escape a crate or room
- Destruction of flooring, walls, or furniture
- Self-harm, particularly to the feet and toenails, from escape attempts
Additionally, Dr. Karen Overall mentioned the following signs of anxiety in dogs during a podcast with the American Kennel Club:
Signs of anxiety include:
Anal sac expression
Increased respiration and heart rates
Muscle rigidity (usually with tremors)
Grimace (retraction of lips)
Smacking or popping lips/jaws together
Vocalization (excessive and/or out of context)
o Frequently repetitive sounds, including high pitched whines*, like those
associated with associated with isolation
Immobility/freezing or profoundly decreased activity
Pacing and profoundly increased activity
Hiding or hiding attempts
Escaping or escape attempts
Body language of social disengagement (turning head or body away from signaler)
Lowering of head and neck
Inability to meet a direct gaze
Staring at some middle distance
Body posture lower (in fear, the body is extremely lowered and tail tucked)
Ears lowered and possibly droopy because of changes in facial muscle tone
Hyper-vigilance/hyper-alertness (may only be noticed when touch or interrupt dog or
cat – may hyper-react to stimuli that otherwise would not elicit this reaction)
Lifting paw in an intention movement
Increased closeness to preferred associates
Decrease closeness to preferred associates
Profound alterations in eating and drinking (acute stress is usually associated with
decreases in appetite and thirst, chronic stress is often associated with increases)
Increased grooming, possibly with self-mutilation
Possible appearance of ritualized or repetitive activities
Changes in other behaviors including increased reactivity and increased aggressiveness
(may be non-specific)
Causes of Canine Separation Anxiety
The following are all potential causes of separation anxiety in dogs:
- A traumatic event – did you know that like humans, dogs can suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? According to Veterinary Medicine Professor Dr. Dorothy Black, “a severe thunderstorm, a natural disaster (flood earthquake, tornado, etc.), gunfire, war, bombings, abuse, and attacks by other dogs are just a few known events that have caused PTSD in dogs”.
- Never left alone/not used to it – if your dog simply is not used to being alone, your absence could cause anxiety. If you anticipate a situational change such as a new job, travel, or something else that you cause you to spend less time with your dog, try getting them used to it. The University of Illinois VetMed department suggests building your dog’s independence by leaving them alone for short periods of time. Try taking a walk or shopping while your dog stays home.
- Clingy personality – some breeds are clingier than others. Per Warrensburg Pet Sitting, “there are some breeds that are genetically predisposed to be clingy.” While this isn’t the only cause, those breeds that are predisposed to clinginess might struggle more than others.
- Traumatic separation
- Schedule change
- Routine change
- Absence of family member due to moving out, divorce, death, college, etc.
- Lack of exercise
- Fear of noises
- New residence
- Other behavioral issues that mirror separation anxiety
Conditions That Mirror Separation Anxiety
Some behaviors are seen in both separation anxiety and other conditions. For example, it is difficult to tell if your dog is destroying things because they’re bored versus if they are anxious. According to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, there are easily recognized signs of separation anxiety and non-specific signs of separation anxiety. Please note that “non-specific” means “a symptom, sign, test result, radiological finding, etc., that does not point towards a specific diagnosis”.
Below are two charts that they’ve published; the first one lists clear signs of separation anxiety and the second one lists non-specific signs that may point to other conditions:
Table: Ease with which signs of separation anxiety are recognized
|Non-specific sign||Necessary to rule out before making a diagnosis of separation anxiety|
|Destruction||Play (e.g., soft pillows, cushions, plants, rolls of toilet paper, things|
that play back)
Denning (e.g., pregnancy or pseudo-cyesis)
|Urination||Upper or lower urinary tract disease (e.g., UTI)|
Endocrinopathy (e.g., diabetes, Cushing’s disease)
Incomplete house training
Treatment with corticosteroids
Excitement or ‘submissive’ urination
|Defecation||Dietary change or indiscretion|
Incomplete house training
Incontinence associated with age/arthritis
Keep a Diary/Journal of Your Dog’s Behavior
Because a diagnosis of separation anxiety isn’t always straightforward, keeping a log of your dog’s symptoms will help your veterinarian. Be sure to note the following:
- Behaviors observed
- The “when” – was it after you left the house? Overnight? In a new setting?
- Time of day?
With a symptom log, your dog’s provider should have an easier time establishing symptom cause and effect/triggers. If you have a puppy cam, you can also record your dog’s behavior when you are not home.
Treatments for Canine Separation Anxiety
Desensitization and counterconditioning techniques
Separation anxiety in dogs can be effectively addressed through desensitization and counterconditioning training. These techniques aim to help your pet feel calmer and more comfortable when you leave. It is recommended to seek guidance from a veterinarian, televet, trainer, or animal behaviorist for support in implementing these techniques.
Desensitization involves gradually increasing the amount of time you leave your dog alone. Start with short periods and slowly extend the duration as your pet becomes more accustomed to your absence. With time, your pet should learn to cope with your departure.
Counterconditioning, on the other hand, focuses on redirecting your pet’s attention to something positive when you leave. This can be achieved by giving your dog a special treat or toy that they enjoy only during your departures. By associating your departure with something enjoyable, your pet may feel less anxious.
Make sure your dog gets lots of activity
Separation anxiety in dogs can be a result of unmet needs for play, exercise, and mental stimulation. To prevent and alleviate separation anxiety, veterinarians recommend strategies such as regular walks (at least 30 minutes of exercise daily), interactive playtime, training activities, physical affection like petting, grooming at home, and considering options like doggy daycare or hiring a dog walker. These measures help keep dogs happy and fulfilled, reducing the likelihood of separation anxiety behaviors.
When it comes to treating separation anxiety in dogs, veterinarians often prescribe certain antidepressant medications. Some common medications that your vet may suggest include Fluoxetine (Prozac), Amitriptyline, Trazodone (which is often prescribed specifically for dogs), and Gabapentin (which is typically prescribed for cats). These medications can help alleviate the symptoms of separation anxiety and provide relief for your furry friend.
Need Help Finding Affordable Vet Care?
If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety and you are having trouble finding affordable vet care, visit www.wunderpups.com/help – we will do our best to help you find resources.