What Are the Signs of Separation Anxiety?
Dear PHP Pete,
Our family has recently adopted a dog from the local shelter. Our son has gone back to school and we go to work. Unfortunately, our furry friend goes crazy when we leave. He tears up our furniture and sometimes has accidents on the carpet. We are at our wits’ end! What can we do to stop his misbehavior?
Back to School Blues
Dear Back to School Blues,
Your dog may be experiencing separation anxiety. As social animals, some dogs become anxious when left alone, especially if they have experienced a traumatic separation in the past (such as being surrendered at an animal shelter). Signs of separation anxiety may include:
- Agitation (e.g., pacing)
- Physical symptoms such as vomiting or trembling
- Inappropriate urination/defecation
- Whining or barking
- Destruction of property
- Self-destructive or compulsive behavior
- Aggression (e.g., biting and growling)
- Depression (e.g., lethargy or loss of appetite)
There are some steps you can take to help ease your pet’s anxiety while correcting his behavior:
Determine if it is separation anxiety and rule out other possible causes of these behaviors. For example, accidents may be a sign of a medical condition, or if he is a puppy or high-energy he may just need training. True separation anxiety often begins before or just after you leave your house.
Set up a routine with your pet. Make sure that your dog is ready to relax at the time you leave. Plan ahead before you leave, scheduling playtime or a walk to expend his energy. Provide your dog with a treat to keep him occupied while you’re gone.
Practice leaving for short periods. Go through your normal leaving routine without leaving home. With time, your dog will be less likely to react to these behaviors. Then start leaving for short periods (a few minutes), gradually extending the time you are gone.
Reinforce calm behavior. Your dog may be excited to see you when you return home, but wait until he’s calmed down to greet him. Reward the calm behavior. Act calm yourself, and never punish bad behavior as it can increase anxiety.
Visit the vet. Your vet can determine what treatment is right for your pet. He may benefit from anti-anxiety medications (e.g., fluoxetine and clomipramine). These medications, combined with training, may significantly decrease your dog’s stress levels. For best results, it is important to be consistent with giving these medications.
- Schwartz S. Separation anxiety syndrome in dogs and cats. Vet Med Today: Reference Point. JAVMA 2003; 222: 1526-32.
- Common Dog Behavior Issues: Separation Anxiety. ASPCA. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/separation-anxiety