Separation anxiety in pets
If you’ve added a few extra paws to your family over the past year, you may be wondering what steps you can take to set your new pet up for success as your routine begins to change. Despite your pup’s adorable face and desperate pleas to break the rules, it is imperative to start implementing a routine with your pet right away to avoid separation anxiety. Plenty of resources are out there, but where do you start? Read below for what you need to know about separation anxiety and how to prevent it.
What is separation anxiety?
Pets can experience anxiety and panic just like humans do, and for those of us that know this feeling, it can be pretty scary. Here is the general list of behaviors associated with separation anxiety in pets:
- Excessive panting
- Excessive drooling
- Excessive barking
- Destructive behavior that can harm the pet or damage property
These behaviors will vary with each pet experiencing separation anxiety. Something to consider is that our pets view time differently than we do, which is why they can be so excited seeing us after only being outside for 30 seconds. So if a pet is in an anxious state for four hours, they’re not going to think, “huh, I’ve been anxious for over four hours now. Maybe I should take a break.” Animals with unaddressed anxiety will exhaust themselves after being in an anxious state for hours – this is not healthy.
Take baby steps and find which set up works best for your pet.
Since each animal handles separation anxiety differently, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. And that’s okay! We’ll show you a couple different options to try. And remember to give you and your pets a little patience and grace during this transition period. Pets communicate through body language and will likely pick up your stress and frustrations during this process. Keep an open mind and find out which positive reinforcement system works best for your pet, whether it’s treats, pats, or telling them they’re a good pup. Time apart from your pet will make your time together even more special. You very well could get to the point where your dog will push you out of the door to get a little R&R.
When you’re not working on training, reward your pet while they’re in a relaxed state when you’re at home. For example, they could be calmly looking out the window, relaxing on their pet bed, or casually walking around the house. If you give them a reward during emotional distress, they won’t make that positive connection.
Whichever method you decide, start with a few minutes away at a time and build up to longer intervals. Keep your emotions neutral when exiting and entering your home. We know this part is hard because it is so fun when your pet is excited to see you, but by keeping your emotions neutral at least a few minutes before and after you leave and return home, you’ll be helping your pet stay relaxed during this change.
Step 1: Finding a place for your pet to stay
Wherever you plan to have your pet stay while you’re away, you want to make sure that it is safe. Some options are crating your pet, dedicating a room or space set up with baby gates, or letting them free-roam the house. Whichever option you choose, we recommend making sure there’s nothing they could get into that could cause harm, such as toxic plants or obstacles they could get caught on.
Note: If you plan to crate your pet, they ideally should get a break every 4-5 hours. This may be a good opportunity to hire a pet sitter, dog walker, or have a relative/friend let them out to relieve themselves and take a stretch break.
Step 2: Meeting your pets needs
Now that you’ve decided where your pet will stay while you’re away, you’ll want to look at the space through your pet’s senses. Try asking yourself the following questions:
- What will my pet see?
For example, if your dog has a stressful reaction to seeing the mail carrier every day, it would be best not to give them access to a window. On the other hand, if your dog is totally fine watching the world through the window without having a stressful reaction, then you might want to set up a bird feeder outside of the window to encourage this more relaxed behavior. You could also leave the TV on at a lower volume for your pet to watch.
- What will my pet hear?
Will these noises stress them out or relax them? Consider playing soft music to fill the space. Any noises that overstimulate their senses could perpetuate an anxious state.
- What will my pet smell?
Consider using a low concentration of lavender, Adaptil, or Feliway, to help calm your pet through their sense of smell. Any scent that’s too strong is comparable to smelling unpleasant perfume or cologne, which is definitely not relaxing for your pet.
- What will my pet feel?
You’ll want your pet to have a comfortable surface to relax on throughout the day. You’ll also want to avoid any surface they are uncomfortable with, such as tile floor.
Step 3: Keeping your pets entertained
Now that your pet is in a safe and comfortable space, what will they do while you’re gone? A nap sounds ideal, but not all pets can sleep the day away. Boredom can equal destruction. Here are a few ideas to help:
- Hide a few of your pet’s favorite toys and treats in the space they’re staying in. They’ll put their nose to work when a nap won’t do.
- Stuff a Kong with peanut butter or your pet’s preferred filling and let it freeze for about an hour. When you give this to your pet before you leave, it’ll keep them busy for much longer than a regularly filled Kong.
- Put your pet’s mind to work with purchased or DIY puzzle toys.
- If you don’t mind a little clean-up, leave around welcome destructible items like a cardboard box or paper bag – as long as they don’t ingest the items.
Note: Purchasing a pet cam might be a worthy investment for those looking to monitor their pets. These often connect through WiFi and an app on your phone.
When you prepare your pets for changes in the routine, you’re actively setting them up for success that will keep you and your pets stress levels down. It’s important to remember that there will be an adjustment period for you both. Take things slowly. Give each other a little grace. Changing routines takes time.