pet separation anxiety

  • Guest Blogger: Mikkel Becker

    Buy Now

    We’re thrilled to welcome back well-known and respected pet behavior and training expert, and Vetstreet.com contributor, Mikkel Becker on our blog today! She’s talking separation anxiety in our pets… Take it away, Mikkel!

    Countless canines become anxious when left alone. Stress upon separation spans from mild anxiety to an extreme state of panic. Whenever a dog is anxious at separation, it’s important to address the issue immediately, starting with a visit to your veterinarian. Stress upon separation rarely goes away without intervention, but more often, escalates over time. Caretakers of dogs who are anxious when left alone, find that normal tasks, like going to work or going out on a date, are difficult to impossible. The situation can become so severe the dog causes serious harm to themselves or to the home. Even for dogs who internalize stress, the state they are in emotionally is damaging long term to their health and affects their ability to cope with everyday stressors.

    There are numerous indicators of a dog nervous with separation. Signs can include excess salivation, panting, hyper vigilance, whining, barking, acute anorexia, pacing and inability to settle. Anxiety can amplify to the point of self-injury where the dog causes themselves serious harm as they attempt to claw, bite and jump out of exit points. The household also suffers devastation. Doors, crates and windows can be damaged as the dog attempts to flee, while household items like couches can be ravaged from anxious chewing. Dogs become so nervous they may even lose control of bodily functions and have accidents in the home.

    Dogs in this panicked state are literally helpless at their own behavior. Dogs don’t do these destructive behaviors out of spite as a way to teach their person a lesson for leaving them. Instead, their behavior stems from a root emotion of fear. To change the behavior, the root emotion must be changed.

    In my profession as an animal trainer working in conjunction with numerous veterinarians, including my father, Dr. Marty Becker, I help address separation anxiety on a regular basis. Separation anxiety is one of the most common behavior problems in dogs, with 20-40% of dogs reported as having the condition.

    Thankfully, with the right combination of training, environmental modification and veterinary intervention, separation anxiety can be decreased or eliminated. Whether a dog is only moderately nervous or in an all-out panic, it’s important to take the necessary steps to help a dog overcome their distress when left alone.

    Keep in mind, before training begins, it’s important to train under the supervision of a veterinarian who can rule out any medical conditions contributing to behavior and properly diagnose separation anxiety if needed.

    As an animal trainer, I want to share with you several of my top tips for addressing separation anxiety. The training is also helpful as a preventive tool against the development of separation anxiety.

     

    1. Use a ThunderShirt. One of my favorite tools in my training arsenal is the ThunderShirt. Regardless of the size or breed of the dog, the ThunderShirt works on about 80% of dogs. Even without any training, the ThunderShirt drastically reduces anxiety with near immediate results. The ThunderShirt works to non-invasively calm dogs in a similar manner to swaddling a baby.

    2. Many dogs dislike being crated, and some of their panic may stem from being shut in an enclosed area. If your dog dislikes the containment aspect of separation, find a more open area of the home to leave your pooch in that’s doggy proofed. The area of the home should have windows, as dogs feel less enclosed when windows are present. If you have a secure fence and your canine is not an escape artist or incessant barker when separated, consider allowing access the outdoors. By opening up the dog’s area, canines are less likely to feel trapped, and may relax as a result.

    3. When you leave and when you come back, keep attention on the dog as minimal as possible. A simple, non-emotional goodbye or greeting will do, rather than hugs, kisses and emotional words. The more calm and nonchalant the greetings, the less worked up the dog will get. When you return, wait five minutes or until the dog calmly settles into a relaxed sit or down, before acknowledging.

    4. Reduce departure cues. Throughout the day, even on weekends, randomly put on your shoes, pick up the keys, turn on the car, open the garage and do other cues that may signal you’re leaving. Often dogs become anxious even upon the perception of these cues, because they signal you’re leaving. However, if you do these cues with the end result being you still stay home, the cue loses its meaning.

    5. Train your dog to enjoy time alone in their own area. Put the dog in a certain area of the home, like an xpen, or tether the dog with a leash and harness next to a comfortable area, like a dog bed. Place food puzzles or long lasting chews in these areas for the dog to nibble on. To begin with, sit a few feet away and get the dog comfortable with just a short distance separation. The training can be made more challenging later by giving the food item and leaving to go into another room or going outside. Return to the dog before they finish eating their food reward. The idea is to have separation happen with associated pleasurable rewards and at a pace the dog can remain relaxed at. Play classical music during separation, proven to calm pets, to further promote relaxation.

    6. Protect your pet. During training, management techniques like sending the dog to doggy daycare or a dog sitter during inevitable long departures is helpful. In some cases, medication from your veterinarian added in combination with training, will provide especially anxious pets with the best chance of recovery.

  • Pets Can Suffer From Empty Nest Syndrome Too

    Buy Now

    We are happy to announce that we have another guest blogger today! Take it away Sandy!

     

     Pets really enjoy the summer months as much as people do simply because the kids are home from school and there’s lots of activities and outings to keep them engaged and happy to be around the people they love the most.

    Then September rolls around and children go back to school or off to college and the sudden emptiness in the home can leave them feeling very lonely and depressed – and often anxious too.

    According to Professor Nicholas Dodman, director of the small animal behavior clinic at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Grafton, MA at least one in six dogs will exhibit symptoms of separation anxiety or display increased levels if they are already prone to the condition, along with a countless number of cats.

    “Dogs and cats that enjoy human interaction and affection can become psychologically unglued especially if their best human friend in the household happens to be one of the kids and suddenly that person “disappears” and goes off to college. It definitely leaves a void in the pet’s lifestyle,” explains Dodman. “The same applies when kids go back to school and suddenly their lives are so filled with extra mural activities that they no longer have the same amount of time for fun that includes the family pet.”

    Dodman cited the a canine client who had slept in with his teenage best friend since puppyhood and when the boy went off to college, the dog found himself sleeping alone in the empty bedroom.  He started howling at night looking for a new place to sleep.

    This dog would have been an ideal candidate for a ThunderShirt, put on at bedtime to help ease his anxiety and get him into a different sleeping routine.

    Cats can get equally upset but because they don't often display their feelings, people are often unaware that they are feeling anxious and stressed in similar situations too.

    Reduced appetite or complete loss of appetite is a sign that your pet may be suffering from empty nest syndrome.

    When it comes to dogs, signs of stress and anxiety can include sudden pacing and even at attempt to escape by scratching the back of a door or pulling down a blind, trying to get into a trashcan or chewing on a couch.

    For a feline perspective a cat   that is usually friendly and comes to greet their favorite people may stop doing this and lie and sleep a lot more. Some can also begin grooming excessively, pulling out chunks of fur until their skin is raw.

    Of course there are ThunderShirts for cats too and it's a good idea to put one your cat (or dog) if they are going to be left home along for long periods until they are better adjusted to the new dynamics of the household.

    Exercise is a great stress-reliever too. Be sure to schedule walks with your dog several times a day – even they are short ones and amp up games with your cat. Wand toys keep them very engaged.  There are also battery-operated toys that can be pre-set so that they can play by themselves throughout the day too.

     

    Sandy Robins is an award-winning author and respected Pet Lifestyle Expert.

    Sandy and Cat

2 Item(s)