Separation anxiety in dogs
Every dog owner needs to leave their pet home alone sometimes, but if yours suffers from separation anxiety this isn't easy – for either of you. So how do you cure this problem?
Updated on the 19/11/2020, 18:39
Does your dog get distressed when you leave them? Do you come home to chewed sofas or scratched doors? When you get back are you nearly bowled over by them, acting like they haven’t seen you for ages? If you can answer yes to any of these, then your dog may suffer from separation anxiety.
How do I know if my dog has separation anxiety?
There are many different signs that may indicate your dog suffers from some form of separation anxiety. They can include disturbing you in your sleep, becoming withdrawn, losing weight, changing their social behaviour, over grooming and starting to urinate indoors. These behaviours can be worse when you leave them home alone or at night. It is not unusual for a dog with separation anxiety to bark, howl or whine non-stop, or to destroy, chew or scratch windows, doors and furniture. You may also notice they pant or drool excessively and even may try to escape.
What causes a dog to get separation anxiety?
It is not always easy to pinpoint why one dog gets separation anxiety and another doesn’t. There can be various contributing factors, but essentially any major change in the dog’s life can trigger anxiety. For example, moving to a new house, a thunderstorm, a family splitting up, a new dog or a new baby. Some people believe that as dogs are naturally pack animals and in the wild are always with other animals, the species has a predisposition for anxiety when members of their ‘pack’ leave them alone for long periods of time.
Which dog breeds have separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety can develop in any dog. There is some evidence to suggest certain breeds can be more prone to suffering with it than others. You will find multiple breeds suggested but Border Collies, German Shepherds, Labradors and Bichon Frise are widely agreed on as being more at risk of developing the condition.
What is the most needy breed of dog?
All dogs enjoy human interaction and contact. Yet just by nature, some seem to be more independent than others. Although there is no definite evidence, many would say that breeds that have historically been used for working dogs and used to spending nearly all day with their humans can be more needy for attention than others. These breeds can include Labradors, Border Collies, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Pointers.
How do you help a dog with separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety can only be improved by changing a dog’s response to being left alone or confined. There are many ways to help your dog adjust and feel more relaxed when left on their own for part of the day.
Get your dog used to your absences. Start by having periods where your dog spends time by themselves and you are still present and within sight in the house, but separated from them with the use of a barrier.
Then get your dog used to your leaving routine by settling them and then start to leave them for a very short period (seconds) and slowly increase the time your dog is left alone. The idea is to let them know alone time is for them to relax and feel comfortable, and not something to be afraid of.
It is important to find them an area where you would like them to be while you’re away and help them to feel comfortable and relaxed there. In some cases, this may involve a crate or den, but be weary of suddenly forcing a crate on a dog that has never used one as a puppy, as this may make the situation worse. They need to be happy to use that area when they are alone.
Stair gates are a great addition instead of a closed door, as they allow the dog to see, smell and hear outside the room. These are particularly helpful when you are getting them used to being in their own space but still be able to see you.
Some animals feel comforted by having a little background noise on when they are left alone. Something simple, like leaving the radio on at a very low volume, could help.
Make sure you are giving them enough exercise, and providing fun things for them to chew on and do.
Some animals benefit form additional help in the form of medication. There are various calming supplements that can help dogs cope with separation anxiety. Please speak to a veterinarian about the different options and if they believe it could be helpful.
How do you treat an anxious dog?
If you have a dog with separation anxiety, they will need to go through some sort of retraining to help them. This will include getting them used to spending time on their own and helping them find an area they feel ‘safe’ when you are not there. It could also involve installing stair gates and in some situations seeking advice and help from professional animal behaviourists. They may also benefit from calming supplements.
Should you crate a dog with separation anxiety?
It is important to find a dog with separation anxiety an area where you would like them to be while you’re away and help them to feel comfortable and relaxed there. In some cases, this may involve a crate or den, but be weary of suddenly forcing a crate on a dog that has never used one, as this may make the situation worse. They need to be happy to use that area when they are alone.
Does cannabidiol (CBD) oil help dogs with separation anxiety?
There isn’t any official research that has proved CBD to be beneficial for separation anxiety, although some products are marketing themselves for this. It is always best to discuss it with a veterinarian before starting your dog on any supplements.
Is CBD safe for dogs with anxiety?
There isn’t any official research that has proved CBD to be beneficial or safe for separation anxiety. But there has been research in using it for a treatment for osteoarthritis and there were no negative side effects in the dogs, meaning it potentially is safe for canines. Yet it is always best to discuss it with a veterinarian before starting your dog on any supplements.
Does Benadryl help dogs with anxiety?
Benadryl or diphenhydramine is an antihistamine and is sometimes prescribed by vets for its sedative effect. It has a short-term effect and may be helpful in a one-off situation, but for a long-term condition like separation anxiety it is unlikely to be beneficial.
There are other options that are licenced for this condition. Speak to a veterinarian about what they feel would be most appropriate for your dog.
What can you give an anxious dog?
There are various calming supplements available, including plug-in appeasing pheromones and tablets that are based on a milk protein. Speak to a veterinarian about what they feel would be most appropriate for your dog.
Will dog separation anxiety go away?
It would be untruthful to say that dog separation anxiety will go away 100%, as there is no easy way to rectify separation anxiety once it has developed.
We do know it will not go away on its own and most often a complete "cure" is never experienced. Having said that, there are many things you can do to begin to ease the symptoms and then allow you and your dog to manage the condition.
When should I see a vet?
Before you get a new puppy, speak to a vet about how best to try to reduce the chance of separation anxiety, especially if you are likely to be leaving it at home on its own a lot.
If you have a dog who is already showing signs of separation anxiety, for example they appear distressed when you leave them alone in the room, or at night or when you go to work, then please speak to a veterinarian, who can discuss ways to help with behaviour changes, refer you to a specialist or prescribe medication that may help.