We know it’s tough to leave that sad, furry face behind every time you need to run an errand or head to work, but many pets simply curl up and take a nap while you’re gone. Others, however, become stressed and anxious when left alone, and can display many problematic behaviors. Separation anxiety in pets is a serious concern that can be managed, but the first step is getting an accurate diagnosis. Learn how to help your pet overcome their fears with the following information about the causes, signs, and management options for separation anxiety from our team at Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital.

What causes separation anxiety in pets?

Separation anxiety can affect any pet, but some appear to have a higher chance of developing this condition. Pets who are naturally high-strung are more likely to develop a multitude of anxieties, fears, and phobias, and if a pet has one behavior issue, they stand a much higher chance of developing another. For example, if a pet has a thunderstorm aversion, they’re more likely to have separation anxiety as well. 

Pets with a chaotic past can develop separation anxiety. If a pet has been shifted from a home to an animal shelter to a new home and back again, it’s easy to see how they can become anxious when left alone. They also may develop separation anxiety from an abrupt change in schedule, such as when an owner suddenly returns to working in an office after working remotely.

Perhaps one of the biggest causes of separation anxiety is the lack of independence training. Pets who are never left alone fail to learn how to be self-sufficient and independent, and can panic when their owner leaves. Teaching and praising independent behavior when your pet is young is key to helping prevent separation anxiety. For example, reward your pet for remaining in the room when you leave the area and for maintaining a calm attitude when left alone.

How can you tell if your pet has separation anxiety?

While you don’t see the signs your anxious pet is displaying when you’re gone, you can certainly tell something has occurred when your furry pal was home alone. Set up a camera to monitor your pet for the following behaviors to help determine if they have separation anxiety:

  • Inappropriate elimination
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Pacing
  • Heavy panting
  • Destructive behavior
  • Escape

If any of these signs are visible and escalate within the first 30 minutes after you leave, your pet likely has separation anxiety.  

What common conditions can be confused with separation anxiety in pets?

Separation anxiety can be tricky to diagnose accurately because it’s easy to confuse with other conditions. Some common conditions that may cause similar signs to separation anxiety include:

  • Incomplete house training
  • Urine marking
  • Incontinence
  • Pharmaceutical side effects
  • Adolescent destructive behavior
  • Boredom

Most of these issues are present all the time, and do not appear only when a pet is left alone.

How can you save your pet from separation anxiety?

Seeing your pet in distress because you aren’t home can be heartbreaking, but you have some options to help them with their separation anxiety. The following methods typically are most effective when used together:

  • Teaching independent behavior — Pets with separation anxiety tend not to let their owners out of sight. Teach your furry pal to remain behind when you head to the bathroom or kitchen by moving away slowly and rewarding your pet for remaining relaxed. Train your pet to stay on their bed by taking a step away, then tossing a treat at them. If your pet gets up from their bed, start over. With time, you should be able to leave your pet’s view, especially if you provide a long-lasting treat, like a stuffed Kong.
  • Unpairing departure cues When your dog sees you grab their leash, they know it’s time for a walk. The same holds true when you pick up your keys or jacket. These pre-departure cues clue your pet into the fact that you will soon be leaving them alone, and they can become anxious even before you step out the door. So, put your shoes on and sit down to watch TV. Pick up your keys and set them down on your bedside table. Put your jacket on and eat a snack. Soon, your pet will realize these actions do not necessarily mean you’re leaving and will refrain from getting worked up before you even get out the door. Keep your actual departure calm by giving your pet a long-lasting treat and leaving without making a big fuss.
  • Using calming supplements Supplements that contain calming ingredients, such as L-theanine, valerian root, melatonin, tryptophan, and colostrum, work well when used with behavior modification. You also can diffuse calming pheromones into the space where your pet spends most of their time.

In some cases, a pet may benefit from anti-anxiety medication. Medication may need to be used long term or used while behavior modification and training are taking place. 

Be your pet’s superhero by saving them from separation anxiety. If you suspect your four-legged friend panics when you leave them alone, contact our Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital team to schedule a behavior evaluation.