What Can I Do About My Dog's Separation Anxiety?
I Don't Like Staying Alone!
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.
Question 1: 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.
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Q2: How does it happen?
Dr. Cathy: The standard line is it is an inappropriate bonding between the owner and the dog. There are health issues that can lead to separation anxiety as well.
Q3: 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.
Q4: 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.
Q5: 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
Q6: 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. For some dogs, this makes things worse, and some dogs even destroy their crate and hurt themselves in trying to get out.
Q7: 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
Q8: 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.
Q9: Are there non-drug treatments for it?
Dr. Cathy: Standard, conventional medicine says behavior modification is the only non-drug treatment, 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 home 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 a 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.
Q10: 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.
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Q11: Which separation anxiety treatments work the best?
Dr. Cathy: Reducing inflammation and modifying behavior modification really work best.
Q12: Which treatments or solutions should pet owner avoid?
Dr. Cathy: Punishment for the behavior and reliance on medication alone should be avoided. Punishment only makes things worse, whereas medication alone does not really fix the problem, it simply is meant to take the edge off for the nervous dog.
Q12: 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.
Q13: 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 veterinary medical information is based on information provided during a telephone interview with a professional, qualified, retired veterinarian. However, it is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. Always seek your veterinarian’s advice about your pet’s health.
While this information is periodically researched and updated (under the guidance of veterinary input) in the attempt to be timely and factual, no guarantee is given the information is correct, complete, and/or up-to-date.
Recommendations as to therapeutics, diagnostics and best standards of practice in the veterinary industry and/or opinions between professionals may differ or change as technologies and information changes. You should not use this article as your sole source of information on any matter of veterinary health or attempt to self-diagnose or treat your pets as the information herein may not be appropriate for your pet. The safest option for you and your pet is to rely on the advice of your veterinarian to diagnose and recommend the best treatment options.
Questions & Answers
© 2014 Donna Cosmato