Are you seeing unusual behavior and signs of anxiety in a new puppy or older pet? Pet separation anxiety can arise at any point in a pet’s life, and this disease is hard on both the pet and the family. The expert team at Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic can help you detect, treat, and prevent pet separation anxiety.  

Detecting pet separation anxiety

Fluffy used to be a perfectly happy, well-adjusted family pet. Lately, however, when you leave for work, family members have noticed that Fluffy paces, whines, and paws at the door—sometimes for hours. Her nervous behavior seems obsessive, and she does not stop until you return.  

Does Fluffy’s behavior sound familiar? Pet separation anxiety is a common problem, but the signs can be hard to detect. Family members could readily spot Fluffy’s behavior in the example above, but what if the pet only behaves this way when everyone is gone? Support for a separation anxiety diagnosis could be obtained with a webcam or other video surveillance when you are gone, although video recordings are often not necessary, since evidence of the pet’s anxiety can be found all over the house. Destroyed bedding or kennels, damaged furniture or doors, pools of drool, and house soiling accidents are commonly found. Severely affected pets may injure themselves during these panic attacks. Neighbors may report excessive pet vocalization. Some anxious pets become depressed or aggressive when family members leave, while early anxiety signs in other pets can be subtle, such as increased panting when you prepare to leave.

Treating pet separation anxiety

If our veterinary team diagnoses your pet with separation anxiety, our treatment plan will include recommendations for behavioral and environmental changes that your family may need to adopt, including: 

  • Keeping departure and arrival times low-key
  • Leaving your pet your scent with an unwashed clothing article
  • Leaving a treat puzzle, such as a Kong with frozen peanut butter
  • Hiring a pet-sitter to visit your pet during the dayhowever, this may worsen the problem for some pets
  • Installing a pet door
  • Training your pet to love their crate
  • Playing calming music while you are gone
  • Interacting with your pet after you arrive home, only after they have settled
  • Cleaning any house-soiling accidents with an enzymatic odor eliminator
  • Performing anxiety triggers, such as picking up keys, when you are not leaving, to desensitize your pet, and rewarding calm responses
  • Ensuring all family members know that punishment only worsens the anxiety

Medication is also often part of pet separation anxiety treatment. The three main categories of pet separation anxiety medications are: 

  • Prescription medications — These medications, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, work with your pet’s brain chemistry to help them stay calm.
  • Nutritional supplements — Natural remedies, such as probiotics, L-tryptophan, and L-theanine, are available as prescriptions and over-the-counter.
  • Pheromone sprays — Sprays, wipes, collars, or diffusers work with the pet’s nervous and hormone systems, to encourage a sense of well-being.

Preventing pet separation anxiety

With a new pet, avoid anxiety triggers from day one by striving to be calm and positive when arriving and departing, to convey to your pet that separations are a part of everyday life, and not a big deal. If you have been home with your pet and now must leave them (i.e., school is starting, the pandemic quarantine is ending), making gradual rather than sudden changes may help. For example, leave for short periods of time on several different days before the first long day (i.e.,  planned or gradual departures). Monitor your pet’s response closely, however, because more frequent departures can worsen the problem in some pets. When you return, check your pet and their environment for signs of a problem, such as a pool of drool or urine. Keep in mind that a pet with other behavioral issues, such as storm phobia, may be more prone to develop separation anxiety.

Contact Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic with any concerns about pet separation anxiety. Together, we can make the best plan to detect, treat, and prevent separation anxiety in your cherished family pet, so they’ll be singing “I’ll Be Alright Without You,” instead of “Please Don’t Go.”