Separation Anxiety

By Tammy Dee
Certified Veterinary Technician at Pet Poison Helpline

Dog in CarrierSeparation anxiety has become a widely recognized condition in veterinary medicine. The condition is psychological in nature in which the pet develops excessive anxiety, or distress upon separation from its home, belongings, or people to which it has developed an emotional attachment. The anxiety disorder can develop in any age, breed or species.

Often times, the disorder is characterized by one or more of the following symptoms: destructive tendencies, such as chewing (often times their own body parts; most typically a limb or tail), digging, vocalizing, panting, pacing, excessive salivation, inappropriate elimination, or attitude changes.

In many cases with some persistency and patience the pet owner can help reduce the symptoms dramatically, sometimes eradicating them completely, using a few simple techniques. If your dog experiences anxiety upon your departure, leaving your pet with an indestructible toy, or an article of clothing containing your scent can be reassuring and comforting. Performing “practice departures” is another beneficial step in modifying your pet’s behavior. This is best accomplished when the dog is only left alone for a few minutes at a time, gradually increasing that time, and rewarding the positive behavior and ignoring the negative. Over time, your pet will begin to associate the positive behavior with your return and praise.

However, some dogs may require chemical assistance to help control the disorder. Drugs such as Clomipramine or Amitriptyline are often times used in dogs over 6 months of age to help reduce symptoms and act as an adjunct to behavior modification. While the drugs are not a sedative, some dogs may experience lethargy while taking the medication.

If you believe your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety, contact your veterinarian to discuss the symptoms and therapies that may best benefit you and your dog. It may be helpful to keep a notebook or diary of the symptoms, noting the time of day the behavior.