Understanding Pet Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety occurs when your pet becomes anxious or fearful when left alone. It can develop from a sudden change in schedule, such as the beginning of the school year, when the whole family leaves for the day after being around in the summer. This kind of anxiety more commonly affects dogs. As pack animals, they often associate being alone with abandonment by their pack. Cats, typically, are less susceptible because, in the wild, they live partially (if not entirely) on their own. Pet separation anxiety usually manifests as destructive, compulsive behavior that can sometimes lead to self-injury or damage to your home. Our staff at Altadena Pet Hospital are here to help and offer tips on how you can reduce or even eliminate separation anxiety.
How Do You Know if Your Pet Has Separation Anxiety?
Pinpointing separation anxiety can be problematic if your pet does not exhibit any obvious signs of stress until you’ve left. Still, there is usually a trail of signs. Keep an eye out for these tell-tale signs:
- Escape attempts. Claw marks around doors and windows point toward a frantic attempt at escape with the hope of reuniting with their family.
- De-fluffed pillows, torn furniture, chewed shoes, and other signs of destruction showcase the distress and anxiety your pet feels when you’re away.
- House-soiling. Pets who are well-trained and only urinate or defecate in the home while you’re away are very likely suffering from pet separation anxiety.
- Barking, howling, and whining. These behaviors likely occur only after you’ve left, and your neighbors would be the ones to report this behavior.
- Pacing in straight or circular paths. Pacing is difficult to detect as it only happens when your pet is alone. A pet camera is likely the only way to discover this behavior.
Ways to Mitigate Separation Anxiety
To help your pet deal with their alone time with less stress, it’s important to create positive associations with being alone. Ways you can do this include:
- Not making a big deal about coming home or going out. Excessive goodbyes and greetings only reinforce your pet’s bad behaviors. Instead, make goodbyes and greetings low-key, and even ignore your pet for a bit after you get home!
- Give them a special treat, like a food puzzle stuff with their favorite food (peanut butter, cheese, etc.) that they only get when they’re left alone.
- Likewise, give your pet access to a special toy they absolutely love only when they have the house to themselves.
- Make sure to provide plenty of stimulation and exercise while you are home. Take them for a walk in the morning and set aside time in the evening to play with them so they always have something to look forward to.
- Leave the radio/TV on so they have human voices to listen to while you’re away.
- If your pet experiences a more severe level of separation anxiety, talk to your veterinarian. We can recommend anti-anxiety medications to help keep them calm while you’re away.
Contact us at (626) 798-0738 for more information about pet separation anxiety and how to reduce their stress!