For The Love Of Your Pets: Separation anxiety
June 16, 2011 at 1:16 a.m.
By John Beck
Every time I leave the house, my dog starts crying. When I get home, she has spent her whole day scratching at the door or carpet. I sometimes even find my shoes or hairbrush chewed up. I provide her lots of toys and leave the TV on to keep her entertained. What's the deal?
I have heard this story over and over. It sounds like you are dealing with the typical case of separation anxiety. As the word pretty much describes, separation anxiety is when your pet gets anxious after being divided from certain people, places or things. Pets usually spend their time trying to rid themselves of that anxiety while they are awaiting the return of their lost person, place or thing. Some pets with run a fence line the entire day, some will bark the whole time, others will chew or destroy items in or around them.
Desensitizing your pet to your leaving the house can be helpful. Follow the same pattern leading up to your departure every time you leave the house. In the morning you usually get up, make coffee, shower, dress, pick up your purse or computer bag and leave, while your pet is watching every move. For those who suffer from separation anxiety, every step you take builds more and more tension until you depart. It's like a ticking time bomb.
Switching the order in which you do things or changing your routine can help disrupt your pet's anxiety. Try picking up your purse and keys, then walking around the house while performing ordinary tasks. Or try sitting on the couch or floor and petting your pet while holding your purse and keys. When you do leave, return quickly. They expect that when you leave, you will be gone for a considerable amount of time. The first few minutes after you leave the house are usually the most productive (or destructive). Returning quickly will break that cycle.
Another good tip for dealing with separation anxiety is minimizing your interaction with your pet during arrival and departure. A lot of people re-assure their animals when leaving the house. "I'll be back soon ... mommy loves you. Be a good dog." Upon your return, you run to pick them up and start talking to them again. "Mommy missed you. She didn't mean to be gone so long ..."
The best thing to do is to quietly sneak out. If that's not possible, leave without making eye contact on the way out.
In some more severe cases, anti-anxiety medication may be needed. Your pet should not stay on this medication for longer than eight weeks. During this time, your pet will learn that they don't have to be anxious when you aren't around.
Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org.