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Separation Anxiety in Dogs: Causes & Treatments

Separation Anxiety in Dogs: Causes & Treatments | BetterVet

Separation anxiety is a complex and challenging set of behaviors to deal with, and most dog owners worry about their pets becoming upset or anxious when they are left alone. It’s thought that up to half of dogs suffering from separation anxiety don’t show any signs. So, let's talk a bit more about what separation anxiety is and how to ensure your pet feels safe and relaxed when you leave the house.

What is Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

Separation anxiety is a set of behaviors that occur when dogs feel stressed and unhappy about being apart from their pet parents. It usually occurs when dogs are not used to being left alone or separated from their human family. Separation anxiety is unfortunately very common, and approximately 8 in 10 dogs struggle to be separated from their owners.

What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

We don’t know exactly why some dogs develop separation anxiety, but we know it can be triggered by a number of factors:

  • Not being left alone or with dog walkers/sitters when they are growing up
  • Being left alone too much and for too long
  • Fear - this is common in rescue dogs and dogs who haven’t developed confidence in a variety of settings. Fear can lead to anxiety and dogs turn to their owner for support and comfort
  • Moving homes - a new environment can make your dog feel anxious and insecure, leading them to become more closely attached to you for comfort and familiarity 
  • A new pet adoption
  • Changes in routine - dogs like routine and are sensitive to small changes so they can become anxious and more attached to their owner if things are different from normal
  • New people or pets in the house 
  • Boredom - dogs need lots of stimulation to keep their body and minds healthy, and without enough exercise or playtime dogs can channel this energy into anxiety or attention-seeking behaviors

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Separation anxiety can be different in every dog, and some don’t show any signs of it at all. Some of the most common symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs are:

  • Whining, barking, or howling
  • Pacing 
  • Trembling 
  • Excessive panting or yawning 
  • Drooling 
  • Destructive behaviors such as chewing furniture, scratching at doors, and ruining their toys 
  • Urinating or defecating around the house 
  • Ears back and their tail between the legs

Your pet’s mental health can be worrying, and it can often be tricky to spot the signs that something isn’t right, so it’s always important to speak to your usual veterinarian. The symptoms of separation anxiety can also be signs of other medical problems, so it’s important to rule these out too.

How to Treat Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Treating separation anxiety can be tricky and it can be a long process that requires patience and the investment of time. You should always follow guidance from your vet and speak to a qualified behaviorist who can work with you and your dog to make the most appropriate plan.

Some common treatments and ways to help your pet with separation anxiety are:

  • Sticking to a regular routine
  • Ensuring your dog gets plenty of exercise and is getting the right nutrition for their size, age, and breed
  • Starting to spend more time apart – leaving your dog alone should be a normal part of your routine, such as going out to the shops or visiting friends and family. Always build this up slowly
  • Get a regular pet sitter that your dog knows and feels comfortable with 
  • Toys and games to keep your dog mentally stimulated and distracted
  • Supplements – a range of calming supplements are available to help your dog feel more relaxed; speak to your veterinarian about CBD and other options
  • Medication – in some severe cases, vets can prescribe anti-anxiety medication that may help your pet while they are going through behavioral therapy
  • Use treats and high-quality rewards for good behavior

Separation anxiety in puppies can be even more of a worry for new dog owners, but the same treatment and training techniques as adult dogs can be used, and with the right support puppies can overcome their anxiety.

How to Prevent Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Building up your dog’s confidence and independence from a young age is essential to help them spend time alone happily. You should start getting your dog used to being left alone from a young age by going to a different part of the house for 10 minutes at a time. Over time, you can build this up to 20 or 30 minutes before starting to leave the house.

Dogs should never be left alone for more than 5-6 hours. If you need to go out for longer, see if you can take your dog with you, or arrange for a friend or dog sitter to go into your home.

In conclusion, separation is a big worry for dog owners, and it can be tricky to spot the signs. Getting your dog used to being alone and using training techniques from a young age will help your dog feel safe and relaxed when they are apart from you. You should always speak to your vet or a qualified pet behaviorist for advice if you are concerned.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do dogs get separation anxiety?

Dogs develop separation anxiety when they aren’t used to being left alone or separated from their owner. It can also be triggered by changes in routine or environment, boredom, or when dogs are rescued from a shelter.

How can I prevent my dog from developing separation anxiety?

By getting your dog used to being left from a young age, they will become relaxed and confident without you. Always build this up slowly. Leaving your pet with a trusted sitter, daycare, or friend when you’re out can prevent them from becoming lonely. Always ensure your pet gets a suitable diet and plenty of exercise to avoid boredom.

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