Overview of Pet Separation Anxiety

Dogs with separation anxiety destroy objects, urinate, defecate, vomit, or salivate when they are left alone. In extreme cases, dogs can be left alone for no longer than 10 or 15 minutes before they panic and exhibit behavior associated with anxiety. Sometimes separation anxiety is caused by a change in schedule that necessitates the dog be left alone for longer that normal. Idiopathic changes in older dogs may also cause sudden separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety may also be associated with a traumatic event such as being in the house during a fire, during a burglary attempt, or while an alarm system sounded. Dogs at risk for separation anxiety include those rescued from humane shelters, laboratory situations, the street, and those that have spent a lot of time in kennels or with a housebound person.

Treatment for Separation Anxiety in Pets

Treatment for separation anxiety teaches the dog that it does not have to be fearful and panic when it is left alone. Most dogs respond to a smaller space where they feel secure, such as a crate. If the dog panics when crated, do not force it. This will make the situation worse.

Behavior modification for dogs with separation anxiety is designed to teach the dogs to "sit," "stay," and "relax" while the owner performs various behaviors, some of which may be upsetting to the dog. The dog is trained to do this exercise with all members of the household, in each room of the house, and outside. Dogs with separation anxiety are usually anxious in various situations and it is important to teach them to relax at every opportunity. Each member of the household should practice training the dog every day.

Next, the dog is left alone for gradually increasing amounts of time. Crate the dog or isolate it in a small, well-lit, temperature-controlled room when you are not at home. Make sure that the room is safe (i.e., no dangling cords, uncovered electrical outlets, open areas of water, such as a toilet) and provide a blanket or bedding, water, toys, and a biscuit. Remove the dog's collar (to prevent strangulation) and remove anything in the room that can be destroyed. Leave the television or radio on and place an additional light on a timer to go on 15 to 20 minutes before you come home. A timer can be used to modify behavior and signal to the dog that you will be returning. If possible, have someone visit the dog during the day.

Separation anxiety can sometimes be relieved if the dog can observe the outside world (e.g., if the crate can be placed by sliding glass doors). Some dogs do better if they are safely and comfortably left outside.

Desensitize the dog to cues that indicate you are about to leave for the day. Pick up your keys, but do not go anywhere; put on makeup and dress up on the weekend; go to work wearing a jogging suit; use a different door than normal; change your daily routine. This helps to reduce the dog's anxiety-based behavior, which may include:

  • pacing,
  • panting,
  • whining,
  • pupil dilation,
  • ear movement,
  • frequent solicitation of attention,
  • hiding, and
  • jumping.

Most dogs with separation anxiety require antianxiety medication, especially those that experience sudden anxiety caused by trauma. Antianxiety medications have limited side effects and tremendous benefits.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 01 Dec 2001

Last Modified: 15 Dec 2014