While separation anxiety is more commonly seen in canine companions, it can affect both cats and dogs. It is often seen in pets who have either experienced a trauma or who have developed an unusually strong attachment to their pet parent. And even though it is seen in both species, cats and dogs have very different ways of demonstrating their anxiety. Dogs will typically bark and howl or frantically attempt to get out of doors or windows, often with a disregard to their own safety, while cats may hide, refuse to eat when you’re not home or may use your bed or laundry as a litter box.
Unfortunately, symptoms of separation anxiety are not necessarily exclusive to the condition, and it is important to have your pet assessed and definitively determine that the cause of the behavior is separation anxiety and not something else. This ensures your pet gets treated appropriately and that there isn’t an underlying medical issue causing the chaos instead. For example, a cat who is not using the litter box may be suffering from separation anxiety but may also be experiencing lower urinary tract disease while dogs who bark or howl excessively may be more sensitive to outside noises around your home, such as traffic, hearing your neighbors out talking or walking their pets or responding to other dogs who are also barking. Trying to treat issues as separation anxiety if they aren’t ultimately leads to frustration for both you and your pet and can jeopardize your furry friend’s health if there is an underlying medical condition that is left untreated.
The good news is that if your pet is diagnosed with separation anxiety, a little creativity, diligence and patience on your part can go a long way toward eliminating the behavior and helping return your pet and household back to calm.
1. Determine your pet’s triggers. If your pet starts getting frantic when you pick up your keys, make it a point when you?re going to be home to pick them up and put them down several times throughout the day without leaving. If putting on your coat triggers the behavior, put it on then sit down to watch TV. The idea is to desensitize your pet to the cue and let your favorite furry feel safe regardless of the situation.
2. Enrich your pet’s environment. If your pet is a foodie, save the extra-special treats for when you’re leaving. Provide the best treats in ways that will keep your pet occupied, such as puzzle toys or by hiding them around your home (your pet’s nose will lead him to the treats, and he’ll be focused on finding all the tasties instead of the fact that you’re gone). Determine your pet’s favorite toys and, if it’s safe to do so, save those for when you’re going to be gone. Ensure your pet has a cozy, safe space to be when you’re away and ways to burn off some energy such as a cat tree for kitty or a ball launcher for your pup. Be sure that anything designated as “away” treats or toys is collected when you return home so it maintains its novelty.
3. Pay attention, but appropriately. Don’t give your pet attention right away when you return home and don’t make a big deal about saying good-bye, especially if your pet is exhibiting anxiety. Make good-byes casual (if your pet is preoccupied with a treat or toy, this becomes easier) and wait a bit after returning home (and ensure your pet is calm) before saying hello. Make sure your pet gets a couple of good play sessions or walks every day. Not only is this good time with you, it will also help your pet burn off some of the excess energy that may be contributing to the anxious behavior.
If you have a pet who may be exhibiting symptoms of separation anxiety, or if your pet has already been diagnosed with separation anxiety and what you’re trying isn’t correcting the issue, please contact our office to schedule an appointment so we can help you and your pet get back to calm.