Our pets love us dearly, and some love us desperately.
Pets with separation anxiety demonstrate an unhealthy attachment to their owners, and cannot handle being without them. These emotions are on par with a human panic attack, and demonstrate your pet’s extreme distress and agitation that can lead to destructive behavior in their owner’s absence.
The Pet Resort at Stone Ridge sees departures and reunions on a daily basis, so we are often asked about separation anxiety. We’ve compiled the most common questions and misunderstandings, to help you understand your pet’s complex emotions, and to help them find peace.
Question: What is the difference between separation anxiety and misbehavior in pets?
Answer: Separation anxiety and insufficient training can look similar, but they have completely distinct causes and motivations. Although house soiling, vocalizing, digging, chewing, and escape attempts are common to both conditions, pets with separation anxiety demonstrate these behaviors only in their owner’s absence. Pets with separation anxiety may also show anticipatory nervousness as you prepare to leave, such as:
- Blocking the door
A veterinary diagnosis is necessary to rule out a medical cause, determine the exact cause, and ensure effective treatment. Schedule an appointment for your pet at Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center at the first sign of inappropriate behavior.
Q: Did I cause my pet’s separation anxiety?
A: The reason some pets develop separation anxiety while others are naturally comfortable alone is unclear. Although teaching pets how to be alone is important, separation anxiety may have a genetic component that predisposes certain pets to high levels of dependency or insecurity. Previously surrendered or rehomed pets often experience over-attachment and a fear of abandonment. Major life events can trigger separation anxiety at any age, with temporary or permanent behavioral problems. These events can include:
- Death or loss of a family member
- Death or absence of a fellow pet
- Family dynamic changes
- Schedule changes
- Lack of social interaction or adequate exercise
Consider your pet’s perspective when deciding what qualifies as a major life event—what may be a small adjustment for you could turn their world upside down. Pets are comforted by pattern and routine, so during challenging times, keep your pet’s daily schedule as consistent as possible, to minimize anxiety.
Q: Can cats suffer from separation anxiety?
A: While less common, solitary cats can develop strong owner-attachment, and become agitated and depressed during prolonged separation. Affected cats are often more sensitive to their environment in general, and may express their anxiety by urinating inappropriately, vocalizing excessively, over-grooming, and behaving destructively. Cats may also avoid eating or drinking in their owner’s absence, which can be detrimental to cats with medical conditions.
Q: Will my pet’s behavior go away on its own?
A: Untreated separation anxiety typically worsens, and often progresses to generalized anxiety and noise anxiety, and your pet may become hypervigilant and hypersensitive. Severely affected pets may self-harm, over-react to perceived threats, or attempt to escape their home or yard to find their absent owner.
A veterinary examination is necessary to rule out medical causes, such as pain, neurological disorders, and urinary tract infections, that may cause anxiety and require medical treatment. Ignoring separation anxiety signs may mean your pet suffers unnecessarily, so schedule an appointment at the first indication of behavioral change.
Q: Is there medication I can give my pet?
A: Pets with moderate or severe separation anxiety require anti-anxiety medications, which work by increasing serotonin in the brain, and creating a state of calm and relaxation. Anti-anxiety medications are beneficial, and often necessary, but are not a permanent solution. Effective long-term treatment must include behavior modification, so that your pet learns how to be alone. Our veterinary team can create a customized behavior modification plan for your pet, or refer you to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.
Q: How can I help my anxious pet at home?
A: Your Stone Ridge veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist will advise you on specific techniques, but general recommendations to improve your pet’s comfort include:
- Greeting your pet calmly — When you leave home, resist showering your pet with affection. When you return, greet your pet only after they have settled down.
- Providing exercise — Many pets with separation anxiety lack consistent physical activity. Well-exercised pets are satisfied, and typically rest when their owners are away.
- Building positive associations — Pair your departures with a treat puzzle or a food-stuffed toy, so your pet learns that your absence means tasty treats. Freeze the toy for a long-lasting activity.
- Creating calm vibes — Synthetic feline and canine pheromone diffusers, such as Feliway and Adaptil, can help your pet feel more comfortable and relaxed.
Navigating separation anxiety can be a bumpy road. Let the veterinarians at Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center put your pet on the right path toward calm and confidence, and give you peace of mind. Call us to schedule an appointment, to discuss your pet’s behavior.