One of the most common complaints from pet owners is that their pets are destructive or disruptive when they are left alone. Dogs may bark, howl, chew, dig, defecate or urinate. Although these behaviors are often a sign that dogs need to be housebroken or crate trained, they can also indicate that a dog is suffering from stress and anxiety.
Cats can also suffer from anxiety; they may hide, appear withdrawn, or excessively lick or bite their fur. Anxiety is the anticipation of future dangers from unknown or imagined events. Anxiety is most frequently associated with urine/feces elimination, destruction and excessive vocalization in the form of barking or crying.
Understanding the causes for anxiety in pets is essential to relieving this stress and helping pets live a happy and calm life.
Separation anxiety is a leading cause for anxiety and stress in dogs. Separation anxiety typically occurs right after the primary guardian leaves. While there is no clear evidence as to exactly why separation anxiety may develop, a sudden change in guardians or family membership, a change in schedule, or a change in residence are all common triggers for separation anxiety.
For dogs with a mild case of separation anxiety, counter conditioning may help reduce or resolve these problems. Counter conditioning is a process that changes an animal’s fearful, aggressive or anxious reaction to a pleasant and relaxed one. This is achieved by associating the presence or sight of a fearful situation with a liked person or object.
For separation anxiety, one effective option for counter conditioning is to develop an association between being alone and something your pet loves, such as a favorite treat. Be sure to only allow your pet to interact with this treat when he or she is alone. Keep in mind, however, that counter conditioning is typically most successful with mild cases of anxiety; in more severe cases, pets may refuse to eat if a guardian is not home.
Moderate to severe cases of anxiety require a more complex approach to stress relief, according to veterinarians. In addition to counter conditioning, desensitization is also helpful.
Consult with your veterinarian to learn more about the best ways to carry out counter conditioning and desensitization training, and also discuss the possibility of using psychotropic drugs. In some cases, your pet may benefit from working with a board -certified veterinary behaviorist.
American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
ASPCA, “Separation Anxiety.” 2014