Pets suffer from separation anxiety much more than pet owners realize. Stress and anxiety signs can be subtle and difficult to detect, especially if you’re not sure what to look for. To help spot separation anxiety in your pet—and manage their stress—check out the following common scenarios. 

Scenario one: Simba the stressed

A large, red tabby cat, Simba was a gorgeous sight. However, despite appearing mellow and laid-back to his family, Simba had a deep-rooted anxiety that flared up when left alone or faced with significant routine changes. His mom typically worked from home, so Simba was used to 24/7 companionship, but when she left to run errands, the poor cat dissolved into a puddle of quivering nerves. He often urinated inappropriately on comforters, rugs, and jackets left lying on the floor, much to his mom’s disgust. She scolded him for lashing out when he was left alone, to no effect. Finally, at her wit’s end, she scheduled an appointment with her family veterinarian. 

Scenario two: Toby the talker

Toby the tiny Chihuahua was his mom’s pride and joy. He rarely stepped a paw on their home’s lush carpeting, since his mom toted him everywhere. You would usually find Toby tucked in tightly next to his mom, whether she was cleaning, cooking dinner, or watching TV. They were separated only when Toby’s mom left for places that were not dog-friendly, which were altogether too many, in Toby’s opinion. Alone, Toby would yap continuously until his mom returned home, often losing his voice before she came back. Fortunately, Toby’s family did not have close neighbors, but his mom worried about his throat with his excessive barking, and scheduled an appointment with his family veterinarian. 

Scenario three: Petunia the panicked

A large chocolate Labrador, Petunia was fired from bird-dog training when she could not resolve her gun-shy behavior. But she was unable to settle into life as a pampered house pet, and was at her wit’s end with boredom. Her boredom quickly escalated into severe anxiety when left alone, and frantic to escape, she tore at the blinds, tried to dig through the wall, and chewed up the doorframe—several times. Worried about their pet’s safety—and their home’s—Petunia’s family scheduled a consultation with their family veterinarian.   

Common separation anxiety signs in pets

As with most behavior disorders, separation anxiety manifests differently in each pet. By learning the signs, you can more easily spot subtle cues that your pet is distressed when left alone. Monitor your furry pal for the following distress signals:

  • Inappropriate urination and defecation
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Destruction
  • Attempting to escape
  • Pacing or an inability to settle

While many of these signs can be chalked up to other issues, such as incomplete house training or lack of manners, a video camera can reveal the real problem. By watching your pet’s antics when you leave, your family veterinarian can more easily determine if your pet has true separation anxiety, versus a training issue. 

Veterinary management options for pets with separation anxiety

Once your family veterinarian can accurately diagnose separation anxiety, they can offer possible management plans to help ease your pet’s stress. For pets with moderate or severe separation anxiety, your family veterinarian can prescribe fast-acting and long-term anti-anxiety medications, or refer you to a veterinary behaviorist for more support. A veterinary behaviorist can typically provide the most thorough management plan that encompasses training techniques, behavior modification, and pharmaceutical therapy.

At-home management options for pets with separation anxiety

While your family veterinarian can aid your pet with pharmaceutical treatment options for separation anxiety, the bulk of the work is up to you. Fortunately,  many treatment modalities can help ease your pet’s anxiety, including:

  • Pheromone therapy — Species-specific pheromones, whose scents are designed to calm pets, whether diffused into your home, sprayed on bedding, or worn on a collar, are an excellent component of a multimodal treatment plan.
  • Soothing music — Like people, pets find certain melodies soothing, and entire soundtracks are available that can relax your pet and block out the quiet of being alone.
  • Distracting puzzles — If your pet is focusing only on you being gone, distract them with a variety of food puzzles, such as rubber Kongs, snuffle mats, or DIY creations.

If one therapy does not seem fully effective on its own, try various combinations. Separation anxiety management is most effective when multiple treatment modalities are combined, but discovering what works best for your pet will be trial and error. 

While separation anxiety is generally managed under your family veterinarian’s watchful eye, your Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center team is here in case your furry pal runs into trouble. If your pet tries to escape or otherwise becomes hurt, call us for help.