Anxiety in pets is more common than you may think. According to the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, between 20 and 40 percent of dogs taken to a veterinarian suffer from some form of anxiety. One of the most common and debilitating forms of dog anxiety is separation anxiety, which occurs when your pet experiences panic when they are left alone and fears being abandoned by their owner. Here are seven ways to help your dog with the symptoms of anxiety.
1. Understand the Root of Your Dog’s Anxiety
First and foremost, you need to understand the root of your pet’s anxiety. While dogs experience many different forms of anxiety, one of the easiest ways to tell if your dog has separation anxiety is by looking at their symptoms. For example, if your pet looks anxious or panicky when they are left alone in a specific area or room, they may be suffering from separation anxiety. Destructive behaviors, such as chewing or marking, can be symptoms of separation anxiety as well.
2. Take Your Dog for Walks
Taking your dog for walks is a great way to help them ease their separation anxiety symptoms, as well as maintain a healthy weight and lower their blood pressure. Walking is not only good for your dog’s health, but it can be a great way to bond with your pet as well. People are not the only ones who benefit from a regular exercise routine. Like humans, pets with an excess of energy can also become more anxious, so keeping your dog’s energy levels managed with regular exercise is an important measure to take.
3. Play With Your Dog
If your canine companion is suffering from separation anxiety, you should consider providing them with company when they are alone. One way to accomplish this is to give your dog a new toy to make them feel more secure when they are home alone. While there are many considerations to take into account when bringing a new pet into your family, it is true that some dogs can benefit from having another animal companion as well. You may also choose to leave the TV on while you are away, so the dog is comforted by the sound of other voices. There are even phone apps you can purchase to speak with your dog through a monitor placed in the home while you are away.
4. Resist the Temptation to Fuss Over Your Dog Before Leaving
It is a natural inclination to want to comfort your furry friend during an episode of separation anxiety, but fussing over your dog too much prior to leaving home can actually exacerbate the symptoms of separation anxiety. The dog may feel even more anxious because you are acting like there is something about to happen, and if you seem worried, the dog will likely be worried as well.
5. Never Punish a Dog for Anxiety Behaviors
Just because your dog is experiencing separation anxiety symptoms doesn’t mean you should punish them for being anxious. While some dogs get worked up when they are left home alone, others experience nothing more than mild anxiety or distress. Regardless of your dog’s reactions to being left alone, punishing them by leaving them alone more is not the way to go about it. Punishing your dog for their anxiety can actually make their symptoms worse, and lead to similar symptoms in the future.
6. Treat Separation Anxiety Medically
Severe cases of separation anxiety can be treated with medication from your veterinarian, but only after a thorough examination to rule out other potential health problems that can cause or mimic anxiety. In addition, many medications require a period of time to take effect, so they are not always an instant solution. A dog who is suffering from mild symptoms may respond well to natural supplements or anti-anxiety drops recommended by your veterinarian.
7. Get Your Dog Used To Being Home Alone Sooner Rather Than Later
One strategy for aiding your dog during times of severe anxiety is to work on getting them used to being alone sooner rather than later. If your pet has always spent their entire day with you, being left alone at first may be difficult. Dogs who are rescued from animal shelters often exhibit signs of separation anxiety. According to the ASPCA, a change in ownership is a common trigger for separation anxiety in dogs. As tempting as it may be to reassure your new pet by always being around, it is better to start preparing them to be separated from you for small amounts of time during the acclimation process, so they can get used to the idea rather than being shocked by a sudden separation. Rehoming is an anxiety-inducing time for new pets as they struggle to adapt to a new environment, so give your new family member time to adjust and try to be patient.
Separation anxiety can be just as stressful for dog owners as the animals themselves, and if you find the symptoms of your dog’s anxiety are extreme, it is best to speak with a veterinarian. There are also dog trainers who can help you deal with these symptoms and help your dog feel more secure being alone at home.
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