What is Separation Anxiety?

Time to read: 6 mins

What is separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is the stress felt when a pet and owner are apart. The condition is complex and can be deeply troubling for some pets depending upon the severity.

Pet ownership has increased as people look for companionship during lockdown and existing pet owners have been able to spend more time with their pets, a welcome relief for most of us. However, as children start to return to school and adults begin to head back to work this could lead to some issues and stress for the 4-legged friends in our family.

Both cats and dogs may suffer from separation anxiety when they are left alone. It is mostly indoor cats, more than outdoor cats, that will suffer from separation anxiety.

How to spot separation anxiety in pets

  • Your pet is visibly anxious when you get ready to leave
  • Fowling, urinating or vomiting in the house once you are gone
  • Excessive barking, howling, moaning or crying
  • Destruction of property when your pets are left alone. They may start chewing, digging, clawing or destroying objects in the house. These actions could be dangerous for your pet. They could swallow an object, chip their teeth or accidentally injure themselves
  • Dogs may start pacing, panting or drooling more than they normally do
  • They may try to escape the area they are confined in
  • Over-grooming
  • Clingy when you get home and excessive greetings
  • They may not eat when you are around

When you are around your pet will not engage in these behaviours. If they do, they are likely not suffering from separation anxiety but a different medical condition. It’s worth checking with your vet to eliminate any other potential conditions before you can be confident of separation anxiety.

Unless you can see the damage or mess your pets have left when you return, you may not even know that your pet is even suffering from separation anxiety. If you suspect your pet is suffering you can install cameras to watch them when you are not around, or you could ask a neighbour to listen out for any howling or moaning whilst you’re away. If you suspect your dog of having separation anxiety, Tail Academy has a quiz you can take to evaluate your dog’s condition.

dog on chair

Causes of separation anxiety

It is important to know if your pet has separation anxiety. The bad behaviours associated with the condition are prominent reasons for owners giving their pets up. It is likely that your pets may get separation anxiety when people in the house begin to go back to work and kids go back to school. This is because your pet is used to you being around all day and the sudden change could make them anxious. Other reasons for your pets to get separation anxiety is a change in ownership, moving home or a change in routine.

dog under blanket

Keeping your dog calm when you are not around

Give your dog a little treat when you leave to preoccupy them. This can be a chew toy, a puzzle or something along those lines to keep them busy. Leave the house subtly and when you return ignore your pet for a couple of minutes. This is done so your departure and arrival is not hyped up. It could be helpful to leave out some clothes that smell like you to calm them down. If it is possible, leave out of a different door to what you normally use.

If your dog has bad separation anxiety you will need to get them used to being alone. Evaluate what action makes them anxious and do that over and over again but don’t leave. If you packing a bag makes them visibly anxious then pack a bag and just leave it there. You can repeat this many times a day to teach your dog there are not bad connotations associated with you packing a bag or whatever your dog’s trigger is. Another activity to try is slowly increasing the time you are gone. Start off by closing a door between you for a couple of minutes. Do this a couple of times a day each time increasing the amount of time you are gone.

Exercise your dog before you are planning to leave. Exercise will allow you to tire them out while spending time with them, so they are happy and tired when you are getting ready to leave.

Cat Looking out window

Keeping your cat calm when you are not around

To keep your indoor cat preoccupied when you are away leave them lots of toys around the house. Before you leave spend about 10 minutes playing with your cat, this will tire them out and take their minds off the fact that you are no longer there. Provide furniture or toys for your cats to perch on so they can look outside as this may calm them down.

Another way to keep them busy is to hide food around the house. This will allow your cat to “hunt” and look for their food. You can hide it in different locations or put it in their toys. This will preoccupy them and make them explore the house while looking for food.

When leaving your cat alone you may want to leave your usual radio station or television channel on. Leaving on your normal channels will calm your cat as they have a familiar sound to listen to when they are alone.

cat on floor

Although we don’t want to leave our pets alone, we have to do it eventually. If your pet does suffer from separation anxiety their destructive behaviours could cause bodily damage to them. Be sure to look at our cover levels to see how we can protect your pet should they get injured or sick.

If you think your pet may be suffering from separation anxiety give our qualified vet nurses a call on our dedicated Scratch & Patch Careline.

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See how we can help cover your pets from injuries and illnesses.

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