Separation Anxiety in Dogs

A common behaviour concern for owners is that their pets can become stressed when they leave them at home.  Dogs with separation anxiety can be destructive, urinate and defecate in the house, or drool and vomit.  This causes stress for the pet and the owner and can leave the owner feeling chained to their house and afraid to leave. 

This condition is treatable but requires a firm commitment from the owner. The first step is to have your pet examined by your veterinarian.  Health conditions such as Cushing’s or cognitive dysfunction (like Alzheimer’s) can cause behaviour changes that might look like separation anxiety.  An examination and blood testing can check for any underlying metabolic disease.

Secondly, behaviour training to teach your dog to relax is essential.  A detailed protocol to teach your dog to relax is introduced.  If it is possible to have someone visit the dog during the day so that it is alone for only 3-4 hours, this can be beneficial as well.  Or if it is possible to take your dog to work for part of the day, this can be helpful. Try to keep your schedule as regular as possible as dogs do best on a regular routine.

Desensitizing your dog to your departures and arrivals helps to relieve their anxiety as well.  Detailed protocols for working on this with your dog at home can be very beneficial.  Not making a big fuss over your pet when you get home is a simple step but very helpful to avoid rewarding anxious behaviour.

Finally, in some cases, medication is needed to help with their behaviour training.  These medications are very safe and help reduce your pet’s anxiety level enough that you can then work with them at home.  Medications are not a substitute for behaviour training.  Blood testing prior to starting the medication ensures it is safe for your pet to be on it.  Some pets needed to be on medication only for a few months.  Others need to be on medication for many years.

Overall, most pets with separation anxiety will improve with behaviour modification and medication and have a better quality of life.

Written by Dr. Lori Skrypnek