Basic Pet Care

Does Your Pet Have Separation Anxiety?

Does Your Pet Have Separation Anxiety?

If your dog or cat goes to pieces when you leave the house and misbehaves out of stress, there are ways to calm those fears.

Pets are emotional creatures, and some deal better than others with watching a person close the front door and hearing their footsteps grow fainter. When the behavior that stressed pets exhibit from being left alone is a problem — such as incessant barking, howling, chewing, digging, urinating and/or defecating or desperately trying to escape — it’s likely they are suffering from Pet Separation Anxiety (PSA).

Dogs with extreme separation anxiety may cause self-injury and household destruction. They may also make pet parents feel like prisoners in their own home, reluctant to leave for fear or what they may return to find.

The good news is that there are gentle ways help your pet cope.

Desensitize Your Dog

To use this progressive technique, start by pretending to get ready—pack your bag, put on your coat and grab your keys—and then sit down with your pet and don’t leave. Instead, stay until he is calm and comfortable. In a few days, when desensitization advances to the point that Fido no longer panics when he sees you get ready to leave, change up the routine: Walk outside and close the door — then quickly come back into the house.

With repetition, you’ll be able to spend longer and longer stretches of time outside the closed door. Practicing short absences multiple times throughout the day can reduce a pet’s separation anxiety—especially if you only leave the house when Fido is relaxed. Eventually you should be able to leave without alarming your pup.

Teach that Good-bye = a Good Snack

Teach your pet to associate your departures with times he’ll be rewarded. Here’s how: Every time you leave, offer your pet a healthy treat. Or provide a food-filled chew toy that will take him a while to devour. Only allow him access to it when you’re leaving and remove it upon your return. Note: This approach works best with mild cases of separation anxiety since highly anxious pets often won’t eat when their guardians aren’t home.

It’s a Wrap

We now know that hugs are more than signs of affection; they can also make a pet feel more secure. When you can’t be around to soothe your pet with one, put a Thundershirt on him/her. Designed to ease a pet’s anxiety, these garments (available in sizes for both cats and dogs) swaddle the wearer in comfort.

Use a Product that Makes Scents

Certain scents have the power to relax a pet. The company that manufactures D.A.P. (dog appeasing pheromone) has created a synthetic version of a hormone a dog naturally emits when she is at ease. They make it available in several forms: as a collar, a spray and a plug-in electric diffuser that gently releases D.A.P. for up to a month.

Stage a (Gentle) Light & Sound Show

While many pets simply go to sleep when people leave, anxious ones don’t like to be left alone in the dark. So leave a light on and part the curtains so your cat or dog can peek through when hearing sounds. It’s also a good idea to turn on a radio or the audio portion of the TV. Choose soft music to create a relaxing ambiance. Also, keep doors and windows shut to buffer loud noises and secure your backyard to prevent your pet from escaping.

Keep in Mind…

Pet Separation Anxiety is not malicious behavior to be punished. It is a health issue like depression or panic attacks in humans, which can be managed through patience and treatment.

Know that your own behavior can increase or decrease your pet’s anxiety. Although you might be sad to leave your dog to go to work or delighted to see him when you return home, avoid making coming and going a big deal. Instead, ignore him for the first few minutes after you return home. Once he is calm and relaxed, call him over for some gentle attention — and soon you’ll be thanking him for being such a good boy while you were away.