Separation Anxiety and Boarding in Dogs

Dr. Woody Dudley, DVM

Dogs are highly social, preferring company. As a result, when alone many suffer from Separation Anxiety.

What is Canine Separation Anxiety?

It is estimated that 1/6 (17%) of dogs may suffer from canine Separation Anxiety. These dogs panic and suffer anxiety when left alone. Often these dogs behave perfectly when family members come home. Separation anxiety may be seen in young dogs who never fully adapt to being separated from their owners, and in dogs with other anxiety disorders such as noise phobias; it can also develop after a change in the household or schedule.

Destructive behaviors are generally associated with escape attempts and destruction near doors or windows. Destructive behavior from separation anxiety can lead to injury, including damage to the tail, nose, mouth and teeth, as well as stress diarrhea. Some dogs are so severely affected they simply cannot be left alone without injuring themselves during escape attempts. Severely affected dogs become agitated from a surge of adrenaline in their body which causes them to act in extreme ways that we would not normally expect.

Is Boarding dogs with Separation Anxiety okay?

It is important that the Hospital Staff is told whether your pet has shown the destructive behavior of separation anxiety at home before your pet is boarded at the Pet Hospital. This destructive behavior is often magnified when boarding in a place away from home as you can see in the photos.

Many dogs with Separation Anxiety benefit from the extra attention and exercise given with Doggie Day Care while boarding. We also have medication that will help. Dogs with Separation Anxiety should not be boarded in Hotel Rooms with fixtures and moldings that can be destroyed from chewing. Dogs with separation anxiety should not be boarded for periods beyond a few days without medication, in order to prevent self-inflicted injuries.

Separation Anxiety at Home:

Being left alone can be very stressful for your dog. Make sure you provide safe toys as a distraction from loneliness. You can also try leaving a radio or the television on so the voices calm your pet down; soft classical music may be soothing as well. Video cameras when you are away from home are helpful to your Veterinarian for diagnosing and treating Separation Anxiety. It’s a good idea to teach your pet that being alone is okay. Try leaving he or she alone for short periods of time each day while you’re home. Reward and praise your pet when he or she is quiet. Over time, your pet will get accustomed to being alone and it will be less hectic for your pet.

For difficult cases, a daily proactive doggie daycare facility is recommended while pet owners are working.

What is the treatment for Canine Separation Anxiety?

Treatment is available for this condition through your Veterinarian. A pheromone called Dog Appeasing Pheromone is available as a collar, spray, and room fumigator; this has been very effectively used in our office for all forms of anxiety. Pheromones are naturally secreted substances that help our pets relax.

Long-term oral medications available increase Serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasant, relaxed sensations. When Serotonin levels are high, we feel good and sleep better. These medications are effective with few side effects; however, they take 4-8 weeks to work effectively. Side effects to look for include disorientation, hyperexcitability, sleeplessness, sedation, aggression. When discontinuing this medication be sure to consult your Veterinarian; patients should be gradually weaned off these medications.

When beginning the long-term oral Serotonin raising medications above, a second faster-acting medication for anxiety, such as Benzodiazepines, will need to be given for at least a month until the long-term medication takes full effect. This medication is only meant to be used temporarily, as long-term use is addictive.

Behavior modification is perhaps the most important part of controlling Separation Anxiety. We need to train our dogs to be calm. We need to teach our dogs that “alone” is good. Only reward calm behavior. Spend time with your dog only when he or she is calm. Ignore attention-seeking behavior when you leave and arrive at your house. No drama when you come and go, from you or your pet. Ignore your pet until they calm down. Provide a favorite distraction such as a treat or toy 20 to 30 minutes before leaving. Teach your dog to stay settled in a specific area. Include daily walks and playtime daily if possible. Use positive reinforcement for calm behavior.

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