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Preventing Separation Anxiety in Cats and Dogs

Blog

22 February 2021

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Separation anxiety is common in cats and dogs, and ever-present in our modern COVID-19 afflicted world. With owners making changes to their routines, such as going from working from home to working from an office, many pets’ daily routines have changed as well. Routine changes can trigger separation anxiety in both cats and dogs. Here’s what you’ll need to know in order to help prevent or treat your cat or dog’s separation anxiety.

There are different types of separation anxiety that exist in cats and dogs, however, the most common are simulated separation anxiety and true separation anxiety. On the one hand, simulated separation anxiety is a learned behavior and on the other, it is a stress response to the separation from their owner.

Simulated separation anxiety occurs when a pet learns that a certain behaviour will elicit a response from their owner, whether negative or positive. For instance, if your pet acts up when they want attention, you may be tempted to give them attention in hopes of stopping the unwanted behaviour, however, this may have the opposite effect, causing your pet to learn that acting up is rewarded with attention.

True separation anxiety occurs when a dog or cat feels distressed after their owner leaves. It can occur for many reasons including when an owner overcoddles their pet, a lack of self-confidence, a lack of alone time, a traumatic event such as being in a shelter, the loss of a pet or family member. Signs of separation anxiety include, but are not limited to, pacing, whining, barking, meowing, excessive chewing, destruction, urinating, or defecating indoors when alone when this behaviour is not typically observed.

Separation anxiety is often reinforced unwillingly by a pet’s owner. For instance, if a pet is praised for getting overly excited when their owners return home it can increase a pet’s stress level in their owners’ absence.

How can I treat my pet’s separation anxiety?

The first step to treating a dog or cat’s anxiety is realizing your pet has a behavioural issue. If you believe your pet may have separation anxiety, you can verify this by setting up a camera and observing your pet for signs of distress when you are not there. You can also ask friends or a family member about how your pet reacts when you leave. Make sure you have pet-proofed your house before leaving, which means all possible dangers have been removed. Your anxious pet may also look for something to chew on to soothe them, so it is best not to leave your favourite pair of leather shoes lying around when you’re gone.

Treating the root of your pet’s anxiety is essential. Consulting a trainer or behaviourist is key. Providing a diet with calming effects, such as our Nutrience Care Calm & Comfort formula for dogs may help ease some of your dog’s anxiety symptoms as well.

Every pet is different and may require different treatment. However, here are some tips that can help alleviate your pet’s separation anxiety:

  • Do not make a big deal about leaving or re-entering your home. It is best to wait a few minutes after returning home before giving your dog or cat attention. The same applies before you leave as well.
  • Leave your pet with some distractions such as toys, bones, a scratchpad, or a window to look through. Make sure the toys or bones you leave are big enough so that they do not become a choking hazard.
  • Exercise your pet regularly so that they do not have pent up energy which can worsen their anxiety.
  • Never punish your pet for behaviour caused by separation anxiety. This can worsen your pet’s anxiety.
  • Purchase a smart treat dispensing device which allows you to speak and give treats to your pet when you are away from home.
  • Teach your pet a word that signals to them that you are leaving and will be returning shortly.
  • Before departing, leave your dog or cat with a blanket or piece of clothing that has your scent on it. This will comfort your pet while you are away.
  • Bring your dog to an obedience class to instill confidence in them.

Treating separation anxiety may not be an easy process, but a little patience and perseverance can go a long way. Good luck on your journey to making your dog or cat’s separation anxiety a thing of the past! This information is not meant to replace veterinarian or professional advice or treatment.

Sources:

  • https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/separation-anxiety
  • https://pets.webmd.com/dogs-separation-anxiety
  • https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/behavioral/can-cats-have-separation-anxiety
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