As a new school year begins, many children—and their parents—are heading back to a somewhat normal routine. Despite the chaos the coronavirus pandemic caused, some semblance of a regular routine is being put into play, much to the distress of some pets. If you welcomed a new pet into your life while under stay-at-home orders, your furry pal may have never experienced independence, or know how to be happy and relaxed while home alone. To avoid a huge upheaval in your pet’s life as your routine slowly returns to normal, learn to recognize potential separation anxiety signs, and how to teach your four-legged friend to be independent. We understand this may be a challenging time for pets and their families, so check out the following common questions regarding separation anxiety and its management. 

Question: How can I tell if my pet has separation anxiety?

Answer: Separation anxiety signals can be difficult to detect in pets, and differentiating between true separation anxiety and simple lack of training can be challenging. The best way to tell if your pet has separation anxiety versus lack of house- or crate-training is to set up a video monitoring system to catch distress signals, such as panting, pacing, and drooling. Other separation anxiety signs may include:

  • Excessive vocalization, such as whining, barking, or howling
  • Destruction of furniture or household belongings
  • Attempt to escape
  • Inappropriate urination or defecation

Pets with separation anxiety may also become uneasy when their owner prepares to leave. For example, your dog who suffers from separation anxiety may cling to your side, and drool excessively, as you put on your shoes, and pick up your keys. 

Q: Can cats experience separation anxiety, too?

A: While cats like you to think they need human companionship only for their can-opening skills, they also can experience separation anxiety. Cats may vocalize excessively, eliminate inappropriately, or change their eating habits. Since separation anxiety can be more challenging to detect in cats, try to take a video of your pet’s behavior when you’re not home. Then, bring the video to your behavioral consultation with a Gentle Touch Animal Hospital veterinarian.

Q: How can I help avoid separation anxiety in my puppy or kitten?

A: A COVID-19 quarantine period seemed the perfect time to welcome a new pet into the family. Many people, forced to stay at home, had plenty of time to spend with, and train, their new kitten or puppy. However, this 24/7 contact likely predisposed many pets to developing separation anxiety. Now, as work and school schedules resume, pets who are completely unaccustomed to being alone may experience distress when abruptly confined to a kennel, and left with no human contact for up to eight hours per day. 

If you added a new furry member to your family during the COVID-19 pandemic, help prevent separation anxiety from developing by training independence. We understand your new four-legged friend is adorable, and perfect for continuous snuggles, but constant attention and interaction fails to set up your pet for success. Instead, use a long-lasting treat, such as a stuffed Kong, to distract your puppy or kitten in a different room while you fold laundry, take a shower, or cook dinner without your pet underfoot. A high value treat will encourage a positive association with being alone, and your furry pal won’t mind when you leave their sight.

Q: How can I manage separation anxiety in my adult dog or cat?

A: If you’ve adopted an adult pet who already suffers from separation anxiety, managing their condition takes dedication and patience but, like a puppy or kitten, they also can learn to associate high value rewards with being independent and alone. Another technique for separation anxiety management involves removing the link with your pre-departure cues. For example, if your pet becomes stressed when you pick up your keys, or put on your shoes, remove the association with your leaving home. Instead, put on your shoes and jacket, and watch TV. Or, pick up your keys, and put them on your bedroom dresser. Also, try calming your pet if they get excessively excited when you arrive home, to teach them that your going and coming is not a big deal.

The ASPCA has an excellent step-by-step guide to help you remove the link between typical pre-departure tasks, and leaving your pet behind.

Q: At-home management is not working for my pet’s separation anxiety. What’s next?

A: If you’ve put in the hard work of removing the association between pre-departure cues and leaving your pet, practicing calm departures and arrivals, and training independence, but your pet is still a nervous wreck when you leave, schedule a behavioral consultation with your Gentle Touch Animal Hospital veterinarian. Additionally, if your pet panics to the point of destroying your home, or causing injury, schedule an appointment for veterinary help, since behavior modification alone will not be effective when your furry friend is so stressed. Pets who suffer from moderate-to-severe separation anxiety often benefit from as-needed or long-term anti-anxiety medications, to change their mindset, and allow more effective training. Calming supplements, pheromones, and medications will also prevent your frantic pet, or your home, from harm in your absence. 

Does your pet claw at your bathroom door every time you take a shower? Does your pooch howl with horror when you leave the house? If your furry pal can’t bear to be parted from your side, schedule a behavioral consultation with the Gentle Touch Animal Hospital team. We’ll help your best friend battle separation anxiety, and be calm and relaxed while home alone.