Many pets don’t like saying goodbye to their owner, but some experience separation anxiety, resulting in undesirable behaviors. If you routinely come home to find your couch cushions shredded and pet accidents on the floor, your pet may be suffering from separation anxiety. Our team at Providence Vet wants to help by offering tips to manage your pet’s separation anxiety.

#1: Recognize when your pet has separation anxiety

Before you can manage the situation, you need to recognize your pet has a problem. Signs typically manifest differently in cats and dogs.

  • Cats — While many people label cats as anti-social, they can be extremely bonded to their owner, causing them to experience separation anxiety. Signs include:
    • Destructive behavior — Cats distressed by your absence may turn their anxiety toward damaging objects in their environment, meaning you return home to problems such as shredded drapes.
    • Inappropriate elimination — Affected cats will frequently stop using their litter box, and will often perform their duty on your personal property, such as your bed or your shoe.
    • Vomiting — The stress can cause some cats to vomit, and you may find puddles throughout your home.
    • Over grooming — Many cats over groom in response to stress, and in some cases, they can cause hair loss or wounds where they continually lick.
  • Dogs — When dogs experience separation anxiety, signs include:
    • Excessive vocalization — Affected dogs may begin barking, howling, or whining minutes after you leave, and continue until you return home.
    • Destructive behavior — Stressed dogs may take their anxiety out on their surroundings, ripping apart couch cushions and leaving tooth marks on door frames, for example.
    • House soiling — Many dogs have accidents when under the extreme stress of separation anxiety.
    • Escape attempts — Affected dogs may attempt to escape, to reunite with their owner, which can lead to injury to your dog and damage to your property.

#2: Understand that your pet is not misbehaving

Pets can experience separation anxiety for numerous reasons, including abandonment, changes in their routine, moving to another home, and a family member passing away or moving. Regardless, they are experiencing extreme emotional turmoil, and the resulting behaviors should not be misconstrued as bad behavior. If your pet is suffering from separation anxiety, do not punish them when they behave inappropriately. This will only exacerbate the situation, because punishment will increase their stress level.

#3: Have a veterinary professional evaluate your pet

If your pet is indicating they are under excessive stress, they could be affected by a medical condition. They should be evaluated by a veterinary professional, to rule out health-related issues that could be causing the problem.

#4: Create a pet safe zone

Designate a room in your home as your pet’s safe zone. This should be a room where your pet frequently chooses to rest. Provide comfortable bedding, toys, and a piece of your recently worn clothing to provide familiarity. Get your pet used to spending time alone in this room when you are home. Offering a food puzzle toy is a good way to distract them and keep them occupied when you slip out the door to another room. 

#5: Desensitize your pet to your departure cues

Pets are intelligent, and they recognize your typical actions before you leave the house, and can start to become distressed as soon as they recognize these departure cues. To desensitize them to these cues, perform the actions, such as putting on your shoes, picking up your keys, and turning out the lights, but then don’t leave. Do this several times over a few days or weeks, until your pet no longer responds to these actions. 

#6: Desensitize your pet to your actual departure

Once your pet no longer reacts to your departure cues, you can start desensitizing them to your actual departure. Start by opening the door from which you typically leave and closing the door without leaving. If your pet tolerates this OK, try walking through the door, but leaving the door open. The next step is to walk through the door and close the door behind you. You can gradually increase the time you spend outside, as long as your pet continues to stay calm. This process may take weeks or months to be successful, but you should not rush your pet’s progress.

#7: Make departures and arrivals drama free for your pet

When you leave and come home, don’t be overly emotional when saying goodbye or greeting your pet. Overly dramatic affectionate displays can lead your pet to believe the moment is upsetting and stressful, causing them anxiety. 

  • Departure — Ensure your pet is quiet. Offer them a food puzzle toy, and quietly leave while they are distracted.
  • Arrival — Wait until your pet is calm before greeting them. If they are extremely excited, ignore them until they settle down, and then calmly greet them.

#8: Consider medicating your pet

Anti-anxiety medications and supplements are available that may help your pet. Our veterinary professionals will help you decide if these products are right for your pet.

Separation anxiety can be a distressing condition for you and your pet, and we hope these tips help you manage your pet’s distress. If your pet is exhibiting signs indicating separation anxiety, contact our team at Providence Vet, so we can rule out a potential health problem.