Separation Anxiety in Dogs


Dr Julie Schell  BSc(Hons), DVM, CVA, CVCHM, CVC

Bow Bottom Veterinary Hospital 

Dogs are very social animals, and they prefer to spend time with their beloved owners, or other dogs rather than time alone.  They like to play, they like to interact and communicate with others. Sleeping is also an important activity for them, however if they are left alone all day after already having slept for hours during the night, it gets boring for them to have to sleep all day as well.

Many dogs are left at home alone most of the day, some of them inside small kennels.  If they are under exercised, they may quickly become bored.  Be sure to exercise your pet as much as possible before and after you get home.  Ensure that your pet has urinated and defecated outside or in their litterbox before confining them.

Play the radio or television for your pet when you are away.  This background noise is often soothing to pets.  There are even cat sitter and dog sitter DVDs available. Also, provide safe chew toys for your dog- you can fill rubber dog toys (such as Kong toys) with healthy foods like carrot, apple, almond butter, canned plain pumpkin, and also give them safe veterinary recommended rawhide or vegetable chews and toys.  Often, many dogs love chewing vegetables such as carrot, cucumber, cauliflower, watermelon with the rind, cantaloupe and green peas, and zucchini.  You can leave raw or cooked vegetables for them to chew when you are away.

Also, work on training your pet to be able to live in a small room rather than a kennel. With time, pets are often able to be trusted to have free reign of their home when you are away, especially if they have lots of toys and chews to use.  There are excellent interactive dog and cat puzzles that help keep your pet’s occupied.  If your pet stays calm, clean and comfortable, then they will most likely sleep while you are away.

Environmental enrichment is an important part of treating separation anxiety.  Fortunately, there are many ways to help decrease stress and improve comfort, joy and play time for your dog while you’re away at work.  These include bringing your dog to a quality pet day care.  Bringing your pet every day that you are out of the house for long periods of time would be optimal.  If that is not possible, bring him or her at least once or twice weekly.  A good quality pet day care centre will enrich your dog’s life by helping to socialize him or her towards other people, exercising him to help maintain optimal body condition, and will provide love and interaction to your pet.  Also, dogs often really enjoy the car rides with their owners to and from the day care.  Many dogs recognize where they are going as soon as they are in the car and they anticipate joy, which is also helpful to their emotional balance.   We offer pet day care here at Bow Bottom Veterinary hospital- come on by for a tour.  Many of our patients love their time with us and look forward to coming- many clients tell us that their pets know the route and start wagging their tails when they know they are on their way to us.

Professional, licensed and bonded dog walkers are also available in Calgary.  They are hired to pick up your dog during the day and take him or her on a walk to provide an excellent form of exercise and entertainment.  Interview several to determine which ones suit your pet’s needs best.

Some dogs need to have even more help in decreasing their anxiety- the use of TCVM (Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine) herbs and acupuncture are very powerful.  Essential oil therapy is very effective, and if your veterinarian is trained in the use of essential oils, they can prescribe oils and oil blends to help calm your pet and keep them balanced.  Essential oils are applied topically, diffused into the environment aromatherapically via oil diffusers, and sometimes added to the food of the pet.  Your veterinarian may also prescribe natural relaxants such as products with calming milk proteins such as BioCalm or Xylkene.

It is great to try these more natural therapies first.

If those are not helping, then Western medicines are needed, such as Clomicalm (clomipramine tablets). It is vital that behaviour modification programs such as working on training protocols to help relax your pet, and desensitize him or her towards fearful environment, sounds, or other stimuli.  There are board certified veterinary behaviourists that are very helpful and may need to work with you, your pet, and your regular veterinarian to help with solutions.

Whatever you do, do not give up on your pet.  There are many ways to help pets with separation anxiety.   The first step is to contact your veterinarian.

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