don’t leave me
Separation anxiety needs to be distinguished from boredom, although both can result in destructive behaviour. Separation anxiety in animals is a serious problem that occurs when animals are over-attached to people, usually to their owner.
It is a profound fear of being alone which can manifest itself in a range of signs, from obvious anxiety (for example, affected dogs may pant or pace around the house) to more extreme behavioural problems including house soiling, destruction and excessive vocalisation.
Often affected pets behave anxiously when they anticipate that the owner is about to leave the house – picking up on cues such as the owner lifting up a handbag, putting on shoes or jangling car keys. Both dogs and cats can experience anxiety, but affected dogs are much more likely to be noticed as they are more likely to cause damage to property or bark. This behaviour may be reinforced with the attention it brings the animal. The longer separation-related behaviours continue, the more difficult they are to modify, so be procactive by providing an appropriate environment or consulting a vet if you think your pet has separation anxiety.
diagnosis of separation anxiety
Separation anxiety can only be diagnosed by a veterinarian, veterinary behaviourist or registered specialist in behavioural medicine. It occurs when the pet is anxious about being separated from their owners for even short periods of time. Some tell-tale indicators that may indicate that the animal is over-attached to the owner are that problem behaviours occur only when the pet is left alone and destructive behaviour is oriented towards barriers such as doors.
treatment of separation anxiety
The principles of treating separation anxiety include the use of behaviour modification techniques to reduce anxiety when the animal is alone. This can help desensitise the pet to being alone, usually by exposing the pet to gradually longer periods of “alone time”. Mildly affected animals may respond to a combination of behaviour modification and environmental management. Sometimes, modifying the behaviour of the owners can make a big difference. For example, not fussing over your pet when they show signs of anxiety or concern as you are about to leave the house. Making a fuss may reward their anxious behaviour, making it more likely to recur.
Pets that are mildly anxious when left can be helped byquietly praising them for quiet and relaxed behaviour. Giving them a safe place to go, such as a mat or a crate, can also be used as a relaxation cue – somewhere they go to feel safe and secure.
More severely affected animals usually require medication prescribed by a veterinarian, in addition to environmental management and behaviour modification.