Separation anxiety is a common pet behavioral issue that affects dogs and cats alike. The anxiety occurs when a pet becomes excessively upset when left alone, leading to destructive behaviors and emotional distress. Read our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team’s guide to learn about separation anxiety signs and how to implement effective management strategies that are crucial for fostering a happy and well-adjusted furry friend.
Separation anxiety causes in pets
While every pet is unique, common factors may contribute to separation anxiety’s onset. Identifying the cause behind your pet’s separation anxiety can help guide the most appropriate and effective management strategy. Pets’ potential separation anxiety causes include:
- Routine changes — Pets are creatures of habit, and a sudden change in their daily routine, including feeding times and walking schedules, can lead to anxiety.
- New environment — Moving to a new home or even rearranging furniture can be stressful for pets, and being in an unfamiliar surrounding may trigger your pet’s anxiety when they are alone.
- Family structure change — The departure or addition of a family member, human or animal, can impact a pet emotionally. Change in family structure may cause your pet to feel insecure.
- Lack of socialization — Pets who have not been adequately socialized, especially during their early developmental stages, may struggle with being alone as they may not have learned to cope with separation.
- Breed predisposition — Certain breeds are prone to developing separation anxiety because of their nervous or high-strung natures.
- Pre-existing medical conditions — Underlying medical conditions that cause pain or confusion (e.g., arthritis, cognitive dysfunction) can exacerbate anxiety when a pet is left alone.
Separation anxiety signs in pets
Identifying mild separation anxiety in your pet can be challenging, as signs may not be apparent without the aid of a camera to monitor your pet’s behavior while they are alone in the house. If your pet has severe separation anxiety, they may demonstrate destructive behavior, damaging your home or injuring themself.
The best way to identify separation anxiety in your pet is to monitor their behavior when you are getting ready to leave home. If your furry pal appears anxious and unsettled when you step out of the room, shut the bathroom door, put on your shoes, or pick up your keys, they likely have separation anxiety.
If you suspect your pet has separation anxiety, purchase an in-home camera that allows you to monitor and record your four-legged friend’s behavior while you are gone. Separation anxiety signs include:
- Pacing or restlessness
- Excessive vocalization
- House soiling
- Destructive behavior
- Escape attempts
Separation anxiety management in pets
After determining the cause of your pet’s separation anxiety, develop a tailored management plan to ease their distress when they are home alone. Management strategies include:
- Teaching independence — Teach your pet to be independent by leaving them alone for short periods and offering plenty of rewards. For example, take a shower and leave your pet in the living room with a Kong stuffed with their favorite snack. Gradually leave your pet alone for longer periods to encourage independence.
- Establishing a routine — Create a consistent daily routine for your pet. Predictability can help alleviate anxiety, as pets thrive on routine.
- Utilizing interactive toys — Provide toys that dispense treats or engage your pet mentally to help distract them and create positive associations with alone time.
- Creating a safe space — Designate a specific area where your pet feels secure, such as a comfortable bed or crate. Make the space positive by leaving your pet with treats and toys.
- Unlinking departure cues — Break the association your pet has formed with your departure cues. For example, pick up your keys and sit on the couch. Or, put on your jacket, then head to a different room and remove it. With time, your pet will no longer become anxious when you perform these actions. Keeping all comings and goings calm and uneventful will further alleviate your pet’s anxiety when you leave the house.
- Hiring a pet sitter — Consider hiring a pet sitter or bringing your pet to daycare to provide them with companionship and stimulation during your absence.
- Using supplements and medications — Calming supplements and products, such as pheromones, compression wraps, and soothing soundtracks, can ease your pet’s distress. If your pet has severe separation anxiety, they will benefit from medical intervention such as anti-anxiety medication.
Left undiagnosed and untreated, a pet’s separation anxiety can worsen. If you suspect your pet becomes anxious and nervous when left home alone, schedule an appointment with your local Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team.