Leaving your beloved dog each day to go to work is hard—a shout-out to pet-friendly offices—but someone has to bring home the bacon. If you are seeing signs that your departure is also hard on your pet, give us a call and we can help with the issue of separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety: What it is, and what it’s not
Separation anxiety describes a range of problems that occur when pets are left alone. The various signs anxious pets display can include:
- Inappropriate urination or defecation
- Destruction of property, especially at exit points
- Nervousness when people are leaving
To diagnose your pet’s separation anxiety, you first need to differentiate whether her destructive behavior is due to anxiety or boredom. Destructive behavior that can be attributed to boredom will occur whether you are at home or not, while destructive behavior due to separation anxiety will occur only when your pet is home alone. Pets with separation anxiety are suffering—videos of pets with separation anxiety show their true panic—and they need medical treatment and behavior modification. Our team can help with both.
Solutions for your pet’s anxiety and heartbreak
Having a pet who suffers from separation anxiety is truly difficult, because not only is she truly suffering—cue your own heartbreak over her suffering—but also many owners face criticism from neighbors or landlords tired of hearing their pet’s anguished howls. Our team’s first goal when treating pets with separation anxiety is to help in the short-term, so you can maintain good neighbor relations and your pet feels better almost immediately.
After that short-term goal is reached, complete treatment for separation anxiety can take months, and the owner must be truly invested. Medical treatment is easy and involves giving pills, perhaps hidden in canned cheese or peanut butter, but to effect lasting change, you’ll also need to institute behavioral modification, which can be frustrating and time-consuming.
Medical therapies for pets with separation anxiety
Medical therapies are the various treatment options you actively give your pets. Whether you’re administering an oral medicine or applying a topical ointment), you’re medicating your pet.
Pets with separation anxiety are medicated for short-term and long-term results. Your anxious pet will need to be relaxed so that she is receptive to her behavioral treatment, which will produce the long-term results. Your veterinarian will likely prescribe clomipramine (Clomicalm) or fluoxetine (Prozac), currently the only FDA-approved drugs for separation anxiety. These medications typically take four to six weeks for maximum positive effects and are often combined with shorter-acting substances, such as benzodiazepenes (Xanax and Valium), or trazadone.
Behavior modification: The key to success
It may be tempting to simply medicate your pet’s troubles away, but the long-term solution is to change the way she thinks about your departures, although behavior-modification exercises, which aim to change the way a pet views a situation, do require patience and perseverance. In this case, the situation is your departure and your pet’s loneliness.
The mainstays of behavior modification are the concepts that you will reward desired behaviors and ignore unwanted behaviors. Pets with separation anxiety will need training taking baby steps.
Pets with separation anxiety start winding themselves up as soon as they see departure cues, such as you picking up your coat or car keys, and they think you are about to leave. With behavior modification, you will pick up your coat or keys when you have no intention of leaving, so your anxious pet sees you do this and learns to understand that she does not need to panic when she sees these activities. Of course, she must be rewarded for staying calm.
From departure cues, the training moves to actual departures. At first, departures should be short. Step outside and immediately step back inside, so your pet realizes you’ll always be back. When she’s comfortable with this step, stretch it a little and walk further outside and then return, and then perhaps go as far as the neighbor’s house and back.
Behavior modification is all about making your anxious pet feel better. If at any point you see her becoming anxious, back up to the point in the exercise when she seemed completely comfortable. Gradual exposure that reassures your pet you will always be back is key. Separation anxiety is complex, but the dedication, hard work, and time it takes to correct is rewarded when you help your best friend to become more independent and suffer less.
If you suspect your pet suffers from separation anxiety, give us a call for an initial behavior consult. We want to help you and your anxious pet set off on a journey to confident independence.