Separation anxiety and stress are issues that we deal with very frequently in our patients. There are many things that can cause stress. Kenneling, veterinary visits, change in diet, new visitors in the home, new pets, change of routine or confinement for long periods of time.
Some signs that your pet is stressed includes hiding, pacing, hypersalivation, shaking, keeping their tail tucked, not accepting treats, biting/nipping, being easily startled and cowering, just to name a few. Signs of mild separation anxiety may be seen prior to you leaving the house. Your pet may start to pace, salivate, whine, and tremble.
These symptoms may escalate into destructive behavior, house soiling and vocalization.
Ways to reduce stress
Environmental enrichment is a great way to reduce stress in your pet. Enrichment tools can range from food dispensing tools, solitary toys, human interactive toys and simply human interaction.
Food dispensing tools can give a pet something to do when the owner is not around. Animals enjoy foraging and hunting for their food, which they are not allowed to do when they eat rationed amounts out of a bowl. You can buy special toys that dispense food as the animal plays. This is a great way to keep your pet entertained.
There are toys that allow for visual enrichment. These self-play toys are all great options to occupy a bored pet. There are special pheromones and oils, such as lavender that have a calming effect. Perches by windows are great for cats to allow them to watch birds outside.
Human interactive toys are great to strengthen your bond with your pet. These toys can include laser pointers or wands with strings or feathers for cats. For dogs, you can play fetch or frisbee. Training and obedience classes are a great interactive tool to help establish good manners as well as spend quality time with your dog. Human interaction is so important to pets.
Training techniques to reduce separation anxiety
There are some training techniques that can help with separation anxiety. Prior to leaving your house, distract your pet with other activities. Positively reinforce calm behavior when you are home using treats and verbal praise. You can work on independence training, which involves teaching the dog to remain in a resting area while the owner gradually leaves the room and reinforces relaxed behavior. You can also start practicing epartures from the home. This involves the owner gradually increasing the time away from the home slowly and in increments, while reinforcing relaxed behavior as he or she returns.
If your pet is becoming destructive and potentially causing themselves harm, then it is time to consult a professional. Your veterinarian will perform a physical exam and decide if tests are needed to rule out any medical issues that may be causing the anxiety. Medication may be needed to help with the stress. There are various sedatives and anxiety medications that can be done on a trial basis for these issues.