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Separation Anxiety

Veterinary Tip Practice

Give the dog something to do.  Ask the client NOT to feed the dog the morning they come into the practice. Ask the client for permission to use sedation if all other efforts fail to comfort the dog during the owner's absence.

At Home
Provide non-consumable chews and food puzzles to give the dog something to do and think when left alone.


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What is separation anxiety?

eparation anxiety is a behavioral problem in dogs who are so bonded to a person or dog companion that, if separated, they exhibit a high degree of anxiety or excessive distress. These dogs have been nicknamed, "velcro dogs" because they stick so close to their owners, often preferring to lean on them.

Separation anxiety is thought to be an extreme of the social nature of dogs and what's considered normal attachment to others.

The most commonly exhibited behaviors associated with separation anxiety dogs are inappropriate elimination, household destruction, and excessive vocalization (barking and/or whining).

Other visible signs are digging, hiding, trembling, salivating, panting, excessive licking, and even vomiting or diarrhea, may occur.

Separation anxiety symptoms only occur when the dog is separated from his or her person. This includes "virtual separation" where the person is home but the dog cannot see or gain access to the person.

Certain dogs are genetically more prone to separation anxiety than others.

Separation anxiety may suddenly appear in older dogs and may be associated with anticipatory anxiety.

Dogs who have had their basic attachment to their previous owner broken through a surrender situation or death can develop separation anxiety.

Signs of separation anxiety are commonly reported in studies of guide dogs

A common history in dogs with separation anxiety includes a previous bond to an owner and then the person, for whatever reason, is taken away from the dog. For this reason, dogs who are adopted from animal shelters are prone to develop separation anxiety.

To prevent separation anxiety it is important that the dog have frequent, fun, relaxed time away from the owner and leader.

Making separation fun

Provide a favorite "food puzzle" toy prior to leaving home, as well as at other times during the day (so that the dog does not associate the toy as a departure cue). Food puzzles are chew toys that contain food inside them (e.g., Kong®, Buster Cube®, Xtreme Goodie Toy®, etc.). It's a puzzle for the dog to figure out how to get the food out of the toy. The goal is to get the dog's mind on something stimulating and fun while his or her people are away.

Sending the dog to doggie daycare where he or she can be away from the owner for periods of time in a supervised situation, and having fun, is also recommended. If no daycare is available, look for some other location (e.g., a friend's house) where the dog can have a positive experience away from the owner, to help prevent separation anxiety.

Calm arrivals and departures

Decrease the emotional intensity of greetings and departures to also help prevent
separation anxiety. Most people enjoy coming home to a wildly enthusiastic canine greeting. Similarly, many people give their beloved dog an emotional good-bye. These emotional swings related to coming and going are often a part of the problem.

Make your good-byes brief and "no big deal."

Delay greetings until the dog is calm enough to "sit" on Instruction, and then give the dog the attention he or she so richly deserves.

Gradual schedule changes

Sudden, major changes in a pet's life can cause anxiety. If there will be a major change in an owner's schedule or the amount of time the owner will be able to spend with the dog, some thought should be given to making the changeover as gradual as possible. The dog will greatly benefit from preparation.

Seeking additional help

Other signs of stress may be misinterpreted as separation anxiety. Dogs exhibit a great deal of stress due to lack of exercise and mental stimulation. If your dog gets daily exercise, companionship and clear leadership from the humans in the household and severe stress is still exhibited, then your dog may be showing signs of separation anxiety or a medical problem. Contact your veterinarian to assist with proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

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