again, a new school year has begun.
Consequently, some parents are dealing with
separation anxiety issues with their children.
And, with busier school and activity schedules,
it’s also the time when pet parents may begin to
notice separation anxiety symptoms in their
companion animals, too.
The most common definition of separation anxiety
is that when left alone, your pet exhibits
destructive behaviors. There are differences of
opinion among pet professionals regarding the
diagnosis and treatment of this complex
behavioral issue, but all are trying to achieve
the same result – the reduction and/or
elimination of these destructive and harmful
behaviors. The information presented here is
intended to help you identify whether your
companion animal might be suffering from your
absence, and to provide some idea of available
Although more common in canines, separation
anxiety can be exhibited in both dogs and cats.
In dogs, the destructive behaviors can include:
constant barking; destroying furniture; chewing
doors or the walls; ripping apart books;
urinating and/or defecating in the house; and
self-abuse (like chewing their paws raw). In
cats, separation anxiety manifests itself in any
of the following ways: indoor spraying;
urinating or defecating in closets or on
clothes; refusing to eat or drink; and hiding
from you when you are at home.
Professionals attribute separation anxiety to a
wide array of internal or external causes, or a
combination of both. External causes range from
changes in the environment, a lack of exercise
or stimulation, and changes in behavior of the
pet parents. Internal causes can include
illness, persistent pain, nervousness, being in
season and negative physiological changes due to
To determine whether your companion animal might
be suffering from separation anxiety, ask
yourself these questions:
• Does your pet exhibit unusual behavior when
you are getting ready to leave the home?
• Does the destructive behavior occur only when
you are not at home?
• Does your pet greet you frantically, following
closely wherever you go when you are home?
If all of these are true for your pet, you could
be dealing with separation anxiety.
Once you have established that your companion might
be experiencing separation anxiety, it’s critical
that you are aware of the following:
• Do not punish your pet when you arrive home and
discover the damage – this will only aggravate the
• Do not bring another pet into your home.
Introducing another being at this time will only add
additional stress. Although it seems logical (i.e.,
your anxious pet will now have a companion), the
separation anxiety is due to your absence.
• Do not make a big production out of leaving or
entering your home. There is strong support for a
relationship between your displays of heightened
emotion at these times and the destructive behavior
of your companion animal.
There are numerous training techniques that can help
you deal with this pressing issue. These usually
incorporate desensitization strategies as well as
changes in your own behavior. We advise consulting a
professional trainer or animal behaviorist for the
best way to deal with your unique situation.
As with all training, affecting behavioral changes
takes time. Here are some short-term solutions that
can help to alleviate these symptoms while you are
away from home.
• Have a friend or relative care for your pet.
• Place your pet in a day care facility.
• Bring your pet to work.
If none of these options are available to you, there
are other stress reducers you can try on your own.
When leaving your home, give your dog a toy (be sure
it’s one that’s safe for him or her to have without
supervision) like a treat ball – this will keep your
dog occupied and provide a source of pleasure and
gratification that your dog will learn to associate
with your absence. For cats, make sure they have
unobstructed views through windows, use a water
fountain, play soft music or a DVD with birds and
butterflies to engage their attention. For both dogs
and cats, try leaving a pillowcase or a
recently-worn article of clothing in an area where
they commonly stay – just the smell of you may bring
them some comfort.
The time you spend now addressing this issue could
save you and your companion animal grief and
distress in the future. If you suspect that your
companion animal is experiencing separation anxiety,
we strongly recommend you speak with your vet and a
trainer with whom you feel comfortable. With
patience, persistence and a lot of love, you can
help your pet overcome this syndrome.