Dog Separation Anxiety: What You Need to Know and How to Help 

Filed in Dog Health on December 18, 2021

dog-separation-anxiety

Separation anxiety is a behavioral issue that many dog owners encounter. Veterinarians define this condition as extreme emotional distress when your dog is left alone.

In some cases, the fear can lead to destructive behavior and even physical harm. As a dog owner, you must be able to recognize the signs of separation anxiety so you can help ease your pet’s fear.

In this article, I’ll discuss what you need to know about separation anxiety and some new tools that can help your pet.

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What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

Before you can help your pet’s separation anxiety, you must understand what is causing it. Separation anxiety can be caused by various factors, including your pet’s personality, training, and major life events.

In many cases, separation anxiety results from dogs not learning how to be alone when they are puppies. While developing a strong bond with your dog is essential, it’s also important to teach them to be independent.

Some dogs are naturally more independent, while others may require extra help to feel comfortable being alone.

In other cases, separation anxiety can result from a traumatic experience. Dogs who are adopted after being abandoned often struggle with being left alone.

Their experience with abandonment can make them fearful that you will leave and not return.

Additionally, major life changes can spark anxiety issues in previously well-behaved dogs. Examples of major life events may include a death in the family or a recent move. Sudden changes in your daily schedule may also cause anxiety.

How to Detect Separation Anxiety

dog chewing furniture

Separation anxiety is more than just the occasional whine or bark while you’re getting ready to leave the house.

There are a wide variety of behaviors that can signal that your pet is dealing with separation anxiety.

While there is a spectrum of severity, true separation anxiety involves extreme emotional distress. The anxiety that your pet experiences is comparable to a panic attack.

Common signs of separation anxiety include:

  • Excessive barking or howling
  • Destruction of objects or furniture
  • Chewing on crates or doors
  • Excessive panting, pacing or trembling
  • Previously house-trained dogs peeing or pooping in the house

The aftermath of your pet’s destructive behavior may be evident when you return. However, other signs of anxiety may be difficult to detect.

If you have concerns about your pet’s behavior while you’re away, consider setting up a video camera to monitor your dog.

Video recordings can give you a better idea of what they’re doing while you’re away and the severity of their anxiety.

Keep in mind that destructive behavior can put your pet at risk of physical harm. Many pets are injured while trying to escape their crate or room.

It’s essential to recognize the symptoms of separation anxiety early and get your pet the appropriate help.

Separation Anxiety vs. Other Causes of Bad Behavior

When evaluating your pet’s behavior, it’s critical to distinguish between true separation anxiety and bad behavior.

In dogs with separation anxiety, destructive behavior or vocalization results from stress. The behavior only occurs when the dog is left alone. In dogs with other behavioral issues, destructive behavior or vocalization can occur at any time.

Another commonly misinterpreted sign of separation anxiety is bathroom accidents in the house. While this can be a sign of extreme emotional distress, it can also be a result of other factors.

Before linking this behavior to separation anxiety, consider how long your dog was left alone.

Younger dogs may have a more difficult time holding their bladder for long periods. Some young dogs may have not fully mastered potty training.

In older dogs, bathroom accidents can signify certain medical conditions like urinary tract infections or urinary incontinence. Evaluate your dog’s behavior carefully to help you get to the root of the problem.

What You Can do to Help Your Dog

dog waiting at the door

If you suspect your pet has separation anxiety, there are a few things you can do to help. Not only can these tips help pets already experiencing separation anxiety, but they can also be used to reduce the risk of your pet developing this behavior.

1. Train Your Dog to Spend Time Alone

If your dog is used to spending all of their time with you, they will need to practice spending time alone. Start by creating short periods of alone time. Set your dog up in their crate or a pet-safe room where they can not hear or see you.

In the beginning, you can even stay in the house to see how your pet reacts. As your pet gets more comfortable being alone, you can gradually increase the amount of time they spend in their room or crate.

2. Keep Your Pet Occupied

Keeping your pet occupied while you’re away can help take their mind off of being alone. It can also help your dog pass the time.

Provide your pet with mentally stimulating toys and activities. Food puzzles are great for keeping your dog entertained and providing a tasty treat.

3. Give Your Pet Something to Look Forward to

Pick out a special treat or toy that your pet only gets when you leave the house. This can help make your pet’s alone time a more positive experience and give them something to look forward to when you leave.

4. Increase Your Dog’s Exercise and Play-Time

Before you leave your pet, it’s important to make sure they have a chance to release any pent-up energy. Help your pup burn off some of their excess energy with a long walk or some active play-time.

If they are not getting enough physical activity, it can cause increased anxiety levels and lead to more destructive behavior while you’re away. A tired pup is more likely to settle and rest while you’re gone.

5. Talk to Your Veterinarian

If your dog is experiencing a severe case of separation anxiety, they may require professional help.

Schedule an appointment with your local vet to discuss your dog’s behavior. They can provide recommendations and additional resources to help your pet.

In some cases, your dog may require prescription medication or other therapeutic aids in addition to your other training efforts.

Your veterinarian can explain the medical treatment options and create a treatment plan to address your pet’s specific needs.

New Treatments for Separation Anxiety in Dogs

dog and owner

As dog owners look for more ways to help their pets with separation anxiety, more treatment options are becoming available. One of these options is Purina Pro Plan’s Calming Care. This product is a probiotic supplement designed to help dogs struggling with anxiety.

Probiotics are commonly used in dogs to promote a healthy gut. However, new research suggests a strong correlation between the microorganisms of the intestinal tract and an individual’s mood and behavior.

In fact, studies in human medicine have shown positive results when using probiotics to treat anxiety and depression.

The primary bacterial strain found in Purina’s Calming Care is Bifidobacterium longum. This specific strain is also known as BL999 and has been shown to promote calm behavior in both cats and dogs.

To test the effects of BL999 in dogs, Purina conducted a study evaluating the strain’s impact on both physiologic and behavioral indicators of stress.

This included assessing dogs’ heart rates and cortisol levels in their saliva. Researchers also monitored anxious behaviors such as jumping, spinning, pacing, and vocalization.

During the six-week study, dogs were split into two groups. One group of dogs received a placebo supplement, while the other group was provided the BL999.

The study showed that dogs who received the BL999 supplement had lower heart rates and cortisol levels. The BL999 also reduced other behaviors commonly associated with anxiety.

Overall, 90% of the dogs receiving the probiotic showed improvement. While this supplement may not be the right choice for every dog, the results of this study are promising.

Calming Care comes in individual packets that are sprinkled over your dog’s food daily. Because it takes the bacteria some time to have the desired impact, it may take up to 6 weeks before you start noticing a difference in your dog.

While you can use Calming Care on its own, it is best when used in combination with other training methods and environmental changes.

Calming Care is widely available in pet stores and does not require a veterinary prescription. However, it’s always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian before incorporating a new dietary supplement into your pet’s routine.

Summary

While the bond you share with your dog is special, it can also make it difficult for some dogs to spend time alone. Separation anxiety is a major concern in pets and can have serious impacts on their physical and emotional wellbeing.

Understanding the causes of separation anxiety is critical for treatment and prevention. Likewise, early detection of symptoms is essential for getting your pet the help they need.

I hope this information will give you a better understanding of your dog’s separation anxiety and the many ways you can help reduce their fear.

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