Leaving your pet at home alone all day is never a good feeling, but knowing they are suffering from separation anxiety while you are away can be extremely troubling. Before beginning to treat this behavioral problem, you should work to fully understand the extent of their anxiety and any other medical issues that may be at play.
What is Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
Separation anxiety in dogs, which occurs in both puppies and adult dogs, is when your dog suffers from severe stress and behavior issues when left alone and is a very common phobia among many dogs. In some instances, dogs will become distressed or depressed before their owner leaves. While they are away, many dogs may exhibit destructive behavior such as urinating, barking, digging and trying to escape.
Why Do Some Dogs Suffer from Separation Anxiety?
A number of factors can affect why your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety. Many pet owners have noticed that dogs adopted from shelters often suffer from separation anxiety, which may suggest that the loss of an important person in their lives can trigger this behavior problem. Others have noted that smaller dogs who are used to constant companionship are more likely to experience separation anxiety as well. Additionally, several situational factors can cause separation anxiety. These include:
It’s important to keep in mind that your dog becomes accustomed to your routine and the amount of time they spend alone. If your schedule changes due to a new job or activity and the amount of time they spend at home along greatly increases, it is possible that your dog may experience separation anxiety.
Abrupt changes to a dog’s living environment can cause separation anxiety as your dog works to get acclimated with this new, unfamiliar space. Dogs, just like humans, need some time to adjust to new environments and the transitional period may be characterized by anxiety or uncertainty. If your dog was previously left in your backyard to roam and play throughout the day and is now left with only a small room to play, they may have a tougher time adjusting to this change.
Family Member Absence
Dogs develop extremely strong bonds with all household members. They quickly grow used to each person’s routine, daily interaction, and affection. If a family member or roommate is no longer around, your dog may experience separation anxiety as a result of this change in their daily life. This is especially common when your dog has grown up around the same core group of people and is now experiencing the loss of their consistent daily presence.
Signs and Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Pets
Most dog owners would agree that their dogs don’t enjoy being left at home alone. This is why understanding the signs of separation anxiety and differentiating them from normal behavior is extremely important. Here are a few of the key signs of separation anxiety in pets:
- Indoor Accidents
- Persistent Barking
- Destructive Behavior
- Attempting to Escape
- Incessant Pacing
For a full breakdown of each of the top separation anxiety signs and symptoms check out this helpful guide.
Potential Medical Problems
When attempting to diagnose and treat your pet’s separation anxiety, it is important to consider other medical factors that may be at play. Evaluate the following potential medical-related problems and speak with your vet before moving forward with any separation anxiety treatment.
Indoor accidents are a common indication of separation anxiety and may be the result of incontinence, a medical condition in which your dog leaks or is unable to control his/her bladder. Oftentimes dogs with incontinence problems are entirely unaware they have soiled themselves – some even having accidents while asleep. Incontinence can also be linked to a number of medical issues including hormonal imbalance, UTIs, urinary stones, and spinal injuries.
Unfortunately, there are a number of medications that can cause increased instances of in-home accidents. If your pet is currently taking any medication for other health issues, consult your vet to determine if they may be contributing to their accidents.
There are several behavioral problems that can mirror some of the signs of separation anxiety. Most common are a lack of proper house training in younger dogs, urine marking, boredom, and excessive barking triggered by irregular sights and sounds. It’s important to consider whether your pet appears to exhibit one of the aforementioned behavioral issues. Does your dog appear anxious as you leave or upon your return? Or do they simply seem to be destructive in your absence due to a lack of stimulation and exercise?
Crating: How to Know What’s Best for Your Dog
For many dogs, a crate can be extremely useful in establishing a “safe” space for them when left alone. Unfortunately, for dogs that suffer from separation anxiety, a crate can greatly add to their stress and discomfort.
The best way to determine whether a crate is the right fit for your dog is to observe them while in the crate and watch for signs of anxiety. Observing them while you are home will give you an indication of the effect that crating has on your dog. However, in order to get a full picture of your pet’s level of anxiety, you may want to set up a video camera to monitor them for a few hours while you are away. This will give you a clear picture of whether crating is helping to quell their anxiety.
Alternatives to Crating
When crating is not a viable option, the next step is to create a looser, enclosed space with a little more room for your dog to roam about. In this space, you should include toys to provide a viable distraction.
Helpful Tip: Many pet owners will leave behind some of their clothes to calm their dog with the familiar scent.
Separation Anxiety in Older Dogs
If your dog appears to have suddenly forgotten the “rules” and is regressing from their years of training, separation anxiety may be playing a larger role. As one of the most common behavioral issues in older dogs, separation anxiety is extremely prevalent for two major reasons:
Medical Ailments: As your dog ages it may develop a number of health issues that can contribute to separation anxiety problems. Older dogs may experience vision or hearing loss that can make them more anxious in general, especially when they are apart from their owner.
Learned Routine Behavior: It’s important to remember that the older your dog gets, the more dependent and reliant on a routine they tend to be. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why something like a small schedule change can have a large impact on their anxiety. All of the situational causes previously discussed can be amplified by your dog’s age and years of learned routine behavior.
Separation Anxiety in Puppies
As most pet owners know, dogs form their habits early on during puppyhood. As a result, monitoring and correcting behavioral issues as soon as possible is critical. Here are some tips for dogs and separation anxiety to help you pre