Separation Anxiety

Pets with separation anxiety exhibit behavior problems when they’re left alone. So if your pet is exhibiting unpleasant behavior, they need reassurance and praise, not punishment. 

Separation Anxiety after Sheltering-in-Place

After spending springtime sheltering-in-place, many families now find themselves away from home again for work, school, or social-distanced outings. But did your pet grow fond of the days spent watching movies on the couch, napping under your desk, or taking long lunchtime walks? Experiencing these sudden changes to their routine might cause some unpleasant side effects and anxiety.

Pets with separation anxiety exhibit behavior problems when they’re left alone.  Typically, they’ll have a dramatic response within a short time after their owners leave. This can happen in pets young and old, cats and dogs, regardless of their past, but usually as a result of changes in their environment, routine, or other stressors.

Pet Separation Anxiety Signs

  • Digging, chewing and scratching, especially at doors or windows.
  • Howling, barking, meowing, and crying.
  • Urination and defecation in the house or outside the litter box as a result of distress.

This can be frustrating, especially if it’s a new or seemingly random behavior. It’s important to realize, however, that the destruction and house soiling that often occur with separation anxiety are not an attempt to punish or seek revenge, but are actually part of a panic response.

However, there are lots of simple tips you can implement into your routine to help ease your pets’ anxiety, especially if these are fairly recent behaviors. These are also helpful for mitigating pets’ anxiety preceding a major change, such as returning to work, moving, having a baby, or introducing a new pet into your home. 

As much as you want to kiss your fur baby goodbye, keep your departures and arrivals calm. Don’t fawn over them before you leave, and don’t have a party immediately when you return. Try offering them their meal, or giving them a tasty snack or safe toy just before you leave, and sneak out while they’re distracted. If your dog is crate trained, it might help to position their crate so that they cannot see you come and go. Leave your pet with an article of clothing that smells like you. Some pets also find comfort in having blankets or a bed of their own, or being allowed to snooze on your bed while you’re away.

If the anxiety continues or worsens, or if your pet is injuring themselves (forcing their way out of a crate, destroying doors or windows) consult with your veterinarian. You may also consider working with a trainer who specializes in positive reinforcement training. Although anxiety is not the result of disobedience or lack of training, your pet might be less stressed when left alone if they are mentally and physically exercised and stimulated by positive training sessions.

If your pet is exhibiting unpleasant behavior, they need reassurance and praise, not punishment. In fact, if you punish your dog after you return home it may actually increase their anxiety. They do not understand cause and effect the way humans do. By the time you’re home to react to said behavior, they’ve likely long since forgotten what they did, and they won’t understand why you’re upset. They’re just happy you’re home again!

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