Tips for Dealing With Your Pets Separation Anxiety

What does your dog or cat do when left home alone? You probably have at least heard of the term separation anxiety. If you ever arrived home after a long day of work and found your palace in shambles, you have likely lived through it.

When your four-legged friend destroys your window blinds or chews up a roll of toilet paper, she is not trying to tell you that she is angry with you. Maybe your German Shepherd Dog is displeased, but he is more than likely expressing genuine distress.

What is separation anxiety and why are companion animals susceptible?

Separation anxiety is an ailment that causes your pet to become excessively agitated or upset when you leave him or her alone. It generally reaches a point where your dog or cat exhibits anxiety symptoms even as you prepare to depart. These can manifest as vocalization, drooling, restlessness and attempts to prevent your exit[1].

Intact social structure is very important to a pack animal's survival and well being. This may leave dogs vulnerable to the effects of major changes in their households. Shelter animals and rescue dogs appear to be particularly prone to separation anxiety. The loss of an important human figure clearly plays a large role in the development of separation anxiety.

Cats are not pack animals, but it is a huge mistake to think they do not suffer from separation anxiety. Cats form strong bonds with you, their guardians.

Many causes of separation anxiety involve major lifestyle changes.

  1. Schedule changes: You used to spend all day home working on the computer, but you recently started a job that requires you to be out of the house for ten hours at a time.

  2. Household member changes: Your daughter was your cat's best friend, but she moved away to college.

  3. Your family moves to a new house.

  4. Family changes: you have to give your collie to another family because your husband developed allergies to pet fur.

What are classic signs that your pet may be suffering from separation anxiety?

  1. Disruption: Persistent barking, whining or howling

  2. Destruction: Chewing, digging and clawing

  3. Stereotypic: pacing

  4. Defacement: Urinating, defecating or vomiting

  5. Fleeing: Some animals will do everything they can to escape their present situations.

How can you treat separation anxiety?

Because of the special challenges associated with separation anxiety, it is ideal to formulate a plan of attack with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can propose an approach that involves medical intervention or behavioral modification or a combination of the two methods.

Medications for anxiety

Always consult with your veterinarian before administering any medication, over-the-counter or otherwise, to your pet. Your veterinarian will figure out the individual dose specific to your pet and determine which pharmaceutical will be safe to give. Cats often cannot tolerate the same drugs as dogs and their dosing requirements are usually much different.

Benadryl is a popular medication for anxiety because of its side effect of drowsiness. It is most commonly used for motion sickness but treats general mild to moderate anxiety.

Herbal supplements can help anxiety and make pets more receptive to behavior modification. Herbs such as chamomile, melatonin, lavender, passionflower, Valerian and Kava have been successful against anxiety in dogs and cats. Many herbal alternatives use essential oils and pheromones in their antianxiety packages[3]. Calming treats use various herbal ingredients to help relieve stress.

Nutritional supplements such as B vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids may help calm pets.

Antidepressants like puppy Xanax can ease anxiety. Make sure to use a dose appropriate for your dog and not yourself.

Behavior modification

Counterconditioning can be very effective to reduce anxiety over time. If a dog or cat can learn to associate being alone with something amazing, her anxiety will fade. 
You can strategically place favorite treats or toys that will require much time to extricate. Your veterinarian can tell you where to obtain puzzles designed specifically for this purpose. Keep in mind simple counterconditioning works best for mild anxiety[2].

Desensitization added to counterconditioning can treat moderate or even severe separation anxiety. Desensitization methods must be performed by certified professionals or progress can be undermined and even reversed. Call your veterinarian for a consultation on desensitization.

Desensitization with counterconditioning is work that strives to break the cycle of separation anxiety right at the initial stage when you are getting ready to leave. The goal is to stop the snowball effect of anxiety escalation by curbing it before it starts.

Physical aids

Some physical items may make your pet feel more at ease when alone. Many are designed to treat general anxiety.

*A dog crate can act as a type of den and the close quarters can make your pet feel safe. Sometimes crates serve the opposite purpose and create stress. It is best if you monitor your pet's behavior in a crate while at home before you ever leave him in one unattended.

*Thundershirts apply constant but gentle pressure to particular areas on the chest and torso to relieve anxiety.

*Music can have a soothing effect on dogs left alone.


Separation anxiety is a detriment to almost 15% of all pets. Your veterinarian is instrumental in diagnosing the disorder and formulating a treatment plan with you. An appointment today will keep separation anxiety from controlling the lives of you and your pet.