Dogs are pack animals and need company. Dogs thrive best in a social environment. Being alone may result in separation anxiety. Separation-related behaviour problems has been estimated at 20% of the dog population ! Separation anxiety is a big problem.
Some dogs are overly attached to a member of the family.
Does my dog have separation anxiety?
Dogs with separation anxiety show distress when left alone – even for short periods.
The most common of these behaviours dogs display to communicate their anxiety are:
- Excessive barking
- Excessive panting
- Lip licking
- Trying to escape the property
- Destruction of things
- Elimination in the house even though they are house-trained
- Self-harm – like over-grooming
- Excessive excitement when the owner returns
Separation anxiety in dogs is a bit like a panic attack in people. Dog separation anxiety can be quite stressful for the family.
Having a web-cam in your house to observe your pet is very helpful!
Canine separation anxiety what should I do?
Both behavioural and medical therapy usually with the advice of your trusted vet
Some medical conditions and other behavioural conditions can look like separation anxiety. Many dogs with separation anxiety have more than one behaviour problem which can complicate diagnosis and treatment. A blood screen – cheap, non-invasive and useful may be recommended.
Do not hit or punish. Punishment is best avoided in dealing with dogs with separation-related problems.
What causes separation anxiety?
Dog separation anxiety is often triggered by changes in the routine. E.g.
- Changes in work schedule eg: With Covid-19 we were often all at home often all the time and are now returning to work and school away from home.
- After a holiday with your pets
- After a kennel stay
- After recovery from an illness
- Loss of a pet
- Return from a vacation.
- Death in the family, or death of another pet
These all contribute to separation anxiety syndrome.
How do you treat separation anxiety?
Treatment often involves a combination of medications and behaviour therapy to treat separation anxiety in dogs.
Treating separation anxiety can be difficult because the behaviour mainly occurs when your dog is home alone away from you.
Medications for separation anxiety in dogs
Fluoxetine and Clomipramine.
The medications take about 6 weeks to work.
The dog separation anxiety medications may be combined with shorter-acting drugs such as Diazepam, trazodone, gabapentin, clonidine, or alprazolam in the short term.
Clomipramine, a tricyclic antianxiety drug, works by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. When serotonin levels are high, we feel good Dose of 1 to 1.5 mg/kg every 12 hours,
Fluoxetine is commonly known as Prozac. Like clomipramine, it increases serotonin levels.
Fluoxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor widely used in human medicine has proven efficacy in treating anxiety disorders in people
Dose 1–2 mg/kg/day
Imepitoin (Pexion) can be used with the drugs above for behaviour modification for the rapid alleviation of signs of separation anxiety in dogs. It is an antiepileptic drug. 10 to 30 mg/kg twice daily.
Dog Appeasing Pheromones (DAP) – (Adaptil)
DAP replicates the canine maternal pheromones released by nursing females during the first few weeks of the puppies lives. Dog-appeasing pheromone -has been found to reduce dog anxiety. We recommend it as part of the therapy for separation anxiety dispersion in dogs. It is odourless and safe to use around other pets and children.
Zylkene is a complementary feed for cats and dogs that contains a natural product derived from casein, a protein in milk. It is a molecule well known to promote the relaxation of newborns after breastfeeding. It helps pets cope when facing unusual and unpredictable situations.
This is a natural behavioural disorder supplement. It utilises natural ingredients to act on specific sites in the brain; including the amygdala, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), insula and thalamus. The dose is 1-3 capsules daily.
(Getting the pet used to being alone for longer times)
- Start off with small steps like leaving your pet alone while you go into a different room for a short period of time.
- Then give the dog something enjoyable such as chews, toys, then close the door
- Slowly increase the time away.
Gradually your pet will become more tolerant
- Do the same thing to include leaving the house.
DO NOT make a big deal when leaving the house!
DO NOT greet your dog over-enthusiastically when returning home – remain calm.
Always reward calm behaviour and DO NOT punish unacceptable behaviour – ever.
- Give your dog food dispensing and Puzzle toys.
Providing your dog with a chew toy or foraging toy is recommended and helps distract the pet.
Teaching your dog to feel safe alone is the mainstay of the separation anxiety treatment plan.
Dr Kirsti’s three Rs to help manage Canine anxiety
Routine – To create a predicable safe and secure environment
Reward – your dog for calm and relaxed behaviour
Rest – take time to be mindful and present (and rest)