Tuesday, April 27, 2010
By Linda Cole
We all know what separation anxiety is. A dog just can't stand being away from the people he loves. Left alone, the dog might whine, howl or bark all day which isn't good if you live in an apartment. He may also destroy things in the home or scratch up the doors and windows. He gets all worked up and so do the neighbors. But, there could be something else going on that has nothing to do with a dog missing his owner.
Separation anxiety has become a sort of catch-all for behavioral problems. But it could also be boredom or a disease. No one knows why some dogs seem to miss their owner more than others. Some become anxious even with the owner at home but in a different room. Destructive chewing, howling or constant barking, drooling and doing their business inside are all symptoms of separation anxiety. Some dogs become so worked up they chew on themselves, causing self inflicted injuries. A mild case can be dealt with easily whereas a more severe case may require medication and/or working with an animal behavioral expert to help solve the dog's anxiety.
A bored pet can be as destructive as one who misses his owner, but the two problems are quite different. Boredom can be solved with exercise before you leave the house and chew toys stuffed with dog treats. But before you can solve the mystery of whether your dog is destroying your couch because he's bored or because he's experiencing separation anxiety, you need to determine which problem you are dealing with. Discussing the issue with your vet can help.
There are medical reasons why your dog may be exhibiting what appears to be separation anxiety. Cushing's disease, seizures, diabetes, renal disease, gastrointestinal problems or cystitis could be the problem. A fear of thunderstorms that increases when you are gone can upset some dogs enough that they howl or chew to help relieve their fear. Cognitive dysfunction, needing to go outside, marking their territory, a pup who is teething and not being completely housebroken can all be symptoms that you should have your dog checked out by a vet or an animal behaviorist, or spend extra time working on housebreaking and basic training.
Separation anxiety can begin at any age and for a variety of reasons. If you've moved into a new home, your dog may not feel as comfortable in his new surroundings. Separation anxiety can occur is you adopt a new dog who isn't accustomed to you, their new environment or a new routine. It might manifest if your work schedule changes and you don't have as much time to spend exercising and playing with your dog.
Other causes of separation anxiety include: a new baby in the home; new people living in your home; other changes in your living arrangements; a death in the family which can be a human or another pet. Separation anxiety might occur if your dog had an extended stay in a kennel or at the vet, or if you've adopted a new puppy or kitten. Your dog needs to know he hasn't lost your love, so any time there's a change, it's important to reassure him he's still your buddy. Dogs feel most comfortable and secure when their routine is maintained from day to day. Before making changes that are in your control, talk to your vet for recommendations on how to best implement the change so your dog doesn't feel threatened. Changes you can't control, like a death, may need to be dealt with by an expert if your dog continues to grieve.
Don't assume your dog has separation anxiety just because it's an easy explanation for why your dog is misbehaving. Any of the diseases mentioned above, boredom or lack of proper training could be the culprit. If you're thinking about using a crate to help keep your dog from destroying the house while you're gone, discuss your intentions with your vet before doing so. A dog with separation anxiety should never be put in a crate. It will only cause him more stress to be confined in a small area.
The more we learn about dogs, the more we understand how intertwined our lives are. Separation anxiety can be dealt with as long as that's the problem. It's always a good idea to have your vet give your dog a checkup just to make sure it's separation anxiety and not something else.
Read more articles by Linda Cole