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What Can I Do About My Dog's Separation Anxiety?

Donna partners with Dr. Cathy Alinovi, a retired veterinarian, to create informative pet health articles.

Chewing and other destruction of your property may be a sign your dog has separation anxiety.

Chewing and other destruction of your property may be a sign your dog has separation anxiety.

Separation Anxiety Symptoms

Does your otherwise well house-trained and mannerly dog howl, chew, bark or even try to escape when left alone? Is he or she exhibiting unwanted behavior such as inappropriate urination or defecation or the destruction of property?

If so, a trip to the vet may be in order to find out if your pet is suffering from separation anxiety, which is one of the most common behavior problems with dogs.

Dr. Cathy Alinovi shares helpful information about the causes, symptoms and treatment of separation anxiety along with tips she has learned while working with her four-footed clientele.

Q: What is separation anxiety?

Dr. Cathy: Separation anxiety occurs when a dog is overly dependent on his person. When the owner leaves, the dog basically can’t bear it, and rips things to shreds. This is the dog that can’t be alone, even for 5 minutes, while the owner goes to the bathroom.

Leaving Us Alone Is Dangerous to the Furniture!

Dogs suffering from separation anxiety may destroy household property.

Dogs suffering from separation anxiety may destroy household property.

Q: What causes separation anxiety?

Dr. Cathy: The standard line is that it is due to an inappropriate bonding between the owner and the dog. There are health issues that can lead to separation anxiety as well.

Q: How can pet owners differentiate between separation anxiety and behavior problems?

Dr. Cathy: Behavior problems happen regardless of whether the owner is present or not. Separation anxiety occurs when the door closes and the owner steps out.

Q: What causes dogs to develop separation anxiety?

Dr. Cathy: Dogs that feel anxious all the time are most likely to develop separation anxiety. These are the dogs that jump at the least sound, can’t hold still when company comes to visit, and won’t stop barking at strangers, as examples. These are the nervous nellies. It also affects rescue dogs and dogs that have changed owners numerous times.

Q: Can undiagnosed medical problems cause it?

Dr. Cathy: Any health condition that makes a dog feel edgy can cause separation anxiety. Whatever makes dogs feel agitated such as itchy skin, an upset stomach, high blood pressure, infection, and so on could cause them to experience separation anxiety. Just like human babies who are very clingy with their mothers when they feel sick, the separation anxiety dog will cling when he feels poorly.

Home Safe Home

For some dogs, having a safe place like a crate helps to reduce their stress and anxiety.

For some dogs, having a safe place like a crate helps to reduce their stress and anxiety.

Q: Will crating a dog help or worsen his separation anxiety?

Dr. Cathy: It really depends on the dog. If the crate is a safe place for the dog, then crate time can help. But for some dogs, the crate makes things worse, and some dogs even destroy their crate and hurt themselves in trying to get out.

Q: How can pet owners tell if their dog has separation anxiety?

Dr. Cathy: Soiling all over the house, loud howling and barking, and destruction of personal property indicate a dog has separation anxiety.

Tips for Dealing With Separation Anxiety

Q: How do vets diagnose separation anxiety?

Dr. Cathy: The first step is to rule out all other illnesses and observe the dog in the exam room. These dogs cower under the chair and may snap when the vet reaches for them. If the owner steps out of the room, the dog gets more anxious, rather than less.

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Read More From Pethelpful

Q: Are there non-drug treatments for it?

Dr. Cathy: Standard, conventional medicine says behavior modification is the only non-drug treatment for separation anxiety, once the vet rules out any other health issues.

However, there are more routes than those proposed by conventional medicine. The best treatment is reducing all the inflammation in the dog’s body coupled with behavior modification.

Behavior modification means changing the coming-home and going-to-work procedure so that less anxiety is created. Going to work for the day should be as routine as putting on your shoes. Coming home is as simple as walking in the door and waiting until your dog is calm to acknowledge him.

Reducing inflammation means changing the dog from corn-based dry dog food to a diet of real food and to do everything needed to stop your dog from shedding. Shedding is your dog’s signal he has inflammation. As long as he is shedding, he is inflamed and will be more likely to experience separation anxiety.

Q: What medicines are used to treat separation anxiety?

Dr. Cathy: The most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medicines are Prozac or Xanax. These medications can help some dogs, but many of these medications have serious side effects. These side effects may cause long-term health consequences such as vaginal bleeding and the worsening of anxiety symptoms.

Choose Your Favorite Breed

Q: Which separation anxiety treatments work the best?

Dr. Cathy: Reducing inflammation and modifying behavior really work best.

Q: Which treatments or solutions should a pet owner avoid?

Dr. Cathy: Avoid punishment for the behavior and avoid relying on medication alone. Punishment only makes things worse. Medication alone does not really fix the problem; it simply is meant to take the edge off for the nervous dog.

Q: What is the prognosis for dogs with separation anxiety?

Dr. Cathy: Working as a team with your dog will give a good prognosis because modifying his behavior and reducing the inflammation will help your dog decrease his stress level and respond more appropriately to being left alone.

Q: What else do pet owners need to know about separation anxiety?

Dr. Cathy: There are herbal therapies that work as well, or better, than conventional medicines like Prozac, and there are fewer side effects with these therapies. The key is to decrease your dog’s inflammation so always feed great food (think human foods), use safer medications, and include behavior modification for the best results. As a caveat, keep in mind that not treating your dog’s anxiety may lead to Addison’s disease.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2014 Donna Cosmato

Share your experiences with dogs and separation anxiety

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on September 10, 2014:

Hi LindaSmith1, you are lucky your min pin isn't taking out her anxiety on your belongings! Thanks for sharing with all of us.

LindaSmith1 from USA on September 09, 2014:

My older min pin, I believe has separation anxiety when I am at home, doing things besides sit with her. She lays around with that depressed look. Thank goodness she does not seek revenge by tearing things up, and doing her business on the floor.

Anna Haun from USA on August 13, 2014:

Hello Donna,

Thanks for allowing me to share your article as it will benefit some of my friends.


Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on August 13, 2014:

Hi Annie Wright, I'd be honored to have you share this hub on separation anxiety with your Facebook friends. Thank you so much!

Anna Haun from USA on August 06, 2014:


Thank you for responding back. You are right about the time and love that I give to Tyke. I'd like to know if its okay to put your link to your article on my facebook page so others could read it. I have a friend who runs an animal rescue, and I believe she could benefit from your article, and some of my other friends. Most people don't understand that is a real problem for animals, as the first Vet told me dogs don't behave like that, she pretty much acted like I was making it up. It was great to see that you wrote an article on the subject explaining the problem, showing that is a real problem.


Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on August 05, 2014:

Thank you for reading and commenting on my hub Kim. You've offered some valuable tips for pet parents that could help them.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on August 05, 2014:

Thanks for sharing your experiences with Tyke's anxiety issues Annie. It sounds like you've invested much love, time and effort into helping him learn to live with his anxiety. I appreciate your taking time to read and comment on my hub.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on August 05, 2014:

Thank you for your well wishes My Bell. I'm a dog lover too, and have owned one for most of my adult life. I've never had a dog with separation anxiety, but I can appreciate how challenging it can be to deal with such an issue.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on August 05, 2014:

Thanks for reading and commenting, nanderson500. It's too bad your neighbor's dog has separation issues; it must be frustrating to listen to the poor pooch howling and whining.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on August 05, 2014:

Thanks for commenting on my hub fpherj48. I'm a fan of Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, as well. As for the breed of the puppy in the photo, I think you're right - it does look like a Bichon Frise, and they are an adorable, cuddly breed!

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on August 05, 2014:

Thank you for commenting on this hub and sharing with us about your Cocker Spaniel. It's wonderful that you are able to spend so much quality time with your fur baby.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on August 05, 2014:

Thank you for taking time to read and to comment on this hub about separation anxiety starbright. I really appreciate your vote and your willingness to share this article with your social network.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on August 05, 2014:

Thank you, heidithorne, for sharing with us about your dog's experience with overcoming his separation issues.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on August 05, 2014:

Thanks for sharing your experiences with dogs and separation anxiety mary615.

Kim Dessaix on August 03, 2014:

Dogs need companions. They are born in a litter and snuggle up to their sibling puppies and so are used to company. Separation anxiety isn't a disorder, it's simply loneliness. Chewing is the manifestation of the need to suckle and the dog reverts to this when distressed. The best thing is to give such a dog a companion dog. Another good idea, if it is fenced, is to have a perspex peephole in the fence to the outside world. They love this. They want to see what they can hear as they feel very responsible about protecting their property. It's theirs, not yours in spite of what you think. Dogs also become very bored so exercising them up to twice a day outside your work times is very helpful. Imagine you are a four year old and put yourself in your best friend canine companion's place and you'll know what to do.

Anna Haun from USA on August 03, 2014:


My dog Tyke suffers from Anxiety Stress Syndrome, and I refuse to give him meds to calm him down. When I got Tyke he was very badly abused, weighed less than 3 pounds, now his weight is at 22 pounds. Yes he tried to tear things up, use the bathroom in the house, bite the sitter, pull her hair, wet on the sitter, and get loose but run back inside when I came home. Three sitters have quit because he is mean to them but when I'm there he nice. I solved the problem by making sure were never apart, go to the store take someone to sit with him in the car or the same when paying bills, only go once a month. Reward for being good is a roast beef sandwich from Arby's. Yes Tyke understands when I talk to him same as when his little things he does to tell me what he wants, fridge food, sink water, door outside, hallway ready to go to bed, just have to pay attention to know what he wants. They say he is spoiled, might be has his own bed, TV, VCR and DVD player but of course he will most of the time sleep with me, usually during the day he will use his bed. It took 2 Vets to figure out what was going on with him. First one told me that dogs don't have those kind of behaviors. She should see him in action. His vet will cut his hair and do his nails since she the only other person who can get him to behave when I'm not there. My picture is a carbon copy of him, my little angel.


Marcelle Bell on August 03, 2014:

Congratulations on HOTD! Love this article. I've had a dog in the family all of my life and these are very useful answers and tips for a common problem. I'm a big animal lover so I appreciate your article so much. I agree that punishment is not the answer. The dog is not trying to be bad, just like a baby with separation anxiety isn't trying to behave badly.

nanderson500 from Seattle, WA on August 03, 2014:

Great information! I think my neighbor's dog has separation anxiety. Their dog frequently howls and whines when he is left alone. These are useful answers that will help many dog owners.

Suzie from Carson City on August 03, 2014:

I have learned to try everything advised by the dog experts, for any behavior issue. My favorite is "Cesar Millan," the Dog Whisperer. His suggestions are fail-proof if followed correctly and consistently. He's online, has a show on TV and also has several books out.

This hub is excellent with very common sense and helpful advice for "separation anxiety."

The darling puppy at the top of your hub, destroying the it a Bichon Frisse?......I can assure you, I would find it impossible to "discipline" that precious baby......cutest thing ever! He would be as spoiled and bad as they come....I'm just a pushover.

Thanks for the useful advice..........Up+++

Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on August 03, 2014:

I loved your post on this topic. It reminded me of my Cocker Spaniel who hated being left alone in the house. He would howl, according to my very difficult neighbor who did not like dogs. We never heard it, and when we came home he was very happy but not overly stressed. It was rare that we did not take him with in the car. Only in the height of summer when we went shopping. There was no way he could stay in the car in that heat. Great article!

Lucy Jones from Scandinavia on August 03, 2014:

A problem well worth addressing. Although I don't know much about this particular problem, I do know that many dogs suffer from anxiety for one reason or another. Very interesting hub - thanks for sharing. Voted up and shared.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on August 03, 2014:

Our rescue golden boy had some separation issues early on which drove my husband crazy and worried me to death since he was prone to swallowing dangerous objects (how he came into rescue in the first place). Never had to resort to drugs. Once we got him into a rhythm with regular exercise, feeding and a consistent schedule, it is almost nonexistent. Now any destructive behavior is very, very rare and usually is caused by us leaving items on the floor that shouldn't be there. Great insight into a common issue. Congrats on Hub of the Day!

Mary Hyatt from Florida on August 03, 2014:

My little Miniature Schnauzer never suffered from separation anxiety, thank goodness. I wonder if the Thundershirt would help these dogs with this problem? My dog is scared to death of loud noises,and this shirt helps her to calm right down.

Congrats on HOTD. Voted UP, etc. and shared.

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