Separation anxiety in dogs

Separation anxiety in dogs

Separation anxiety in dogs is one of the most common behavioral problems treated in veterinary medicine.  Dr. Anna Coffin will discuss separation anxiety in dogs and treatment options.

Dr. Anna Coffin and the staff of Guthrie Pet Hospital always see an increase in cases of separation anxiety in dogs this time of year.  A sudden change in the household schedule, commonly see when kids are returning to school after Christmas or summer vacation, can be the cause of your dog’s destructive behavior.  Many people think that the dog is being vindictive, when actually they are stressed and have an anxiety disorder that can get worse without proper treatment.  In fact, some dogs will actually injure themselves trying to escape.  [Tweet “A sudden change in household schedule can be the cause of separation anxiety in dogs”]

Signs of separation anxiety in dogs:

  • excessive vocalization:  barking and howling
  • indoor urination and defecation when the owner is gone
  • chewing, digging and destruction especially at window sills, door frames and door ways
  • escaping
  • pacing 

Factors that can cause your dog to develop separation anxiety:

  • abrupt change of schedule
  • being abandoned or relinquished to a shelter 
  • moving
  • sudden absence of a family member

Treatment involves a combination of behavioral modification and anti-anxiety medication.

Medication:   Clomipramine (Clomicalm) and fluoxetine (Prozac) are the only two FDA drugs approved for treatment of separation anxiety in dogs.  These medications are important to use along with behavior modification, because they help your dog to relax and allows them to concentrate on performing the behavior modification exercises.  It can take 4-6 weeks for these drugs to achieve effective levels so another short-term anti-anxiety medication may be used short-term. 

Pheromones:  Pheromones are chemicals that are produced by the body that, when smelled, have an effect on the body.  Adaptil, formerly DAP (Dog appeasing pheromone), is a synthetic pheromone that replicates the properties of a pheromone secreted by lactating females.  This product is available as a refillable plug-in, a collar, and a spray.

Confinement:  Provide safety to your dog and your property by crate confinement or confinement to a small room.  Dogs that do not tolerate crate confinement, will do better in a smaller room blocked by baby gates.

Exercise:  Your dog should receive 30 minutes of aerobic exercise every days.  Play dates with other dogs or taking your dog to a dog park or dogie day care are also great ways to release your dog’s pent up energy.

Environmental enrichment:  Turn on a radio or television and lights 30 minutes before departure.  Classical music has a calming effect on dogs with anxiety.  Through a dog’s ear uses a variety of music and sound therapy to help dogs and cats with anxiety disorders.  Provide plenty of toys and treats for your dog.  Dr. Anna Coffin recommends filling a Kong or stuffing a hard bone with canned food and freezing.  Toys that dispense treats also help stimulate your dog’s mind.  This keeps him focused and redirects the dog’s attention to something pleasant during an unpleasant time

Behavior modification:  Along with medication, behavior modification is the primary treatment for separation anxiety.  Behavioral modification involves desensitizing your dog to departure and arrival cues. Departure cues may be picking up your keys, turning lights off, putting on your shoes and a coat, and even walking to the door and opening it. By performing these simple tasks but not going anywhere you can desensitize your dog so that he won’t get upset when you do leave. Once the dog has responded well to these departure cues, owners can begin working on actually leaving. Initially, departures should be brief. The first few departures may need to be a few seconds to a few minutes. You want to make sure that you return before the dog starts to panic. If the dog begins to show any signs of separation anxiety then your departure time needs to be shortened. . It’s best to downplay departure and arrival home, do not to talk to the dog and make a big deal out of leaving or arriving. In fact, owners often make the problem worse when they make a big deal out of their arrival home. Ignore your dog for the first five minutes and then your dog will learn not to get overly excited on your arrival home. It’s very important not to punish your dog if it has eliminated or destroyed things in your house due to its separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety in dogs is a common problem, in fact, 50% of dogs will show some signs of separation anxiety in their lifetime.  Some dogs are so destructive that it can lead to the owner relinquishing the pet or euthanasia.  Talk with your veterinarian if you think your dog is showing signs of separation anxiety.

 

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