Separation anxiety is a condition caused by a dog’s fear of being alone. It is the second leading cause of owners relinquishing dogs to shelters or euthanizing their dogs. While the behaviors caused by separation anxiety are problematic, they are also treatable.
Dogs are pack animals by nature. In the wild, dogs are hardly, if ever, alone. This is the reason why they get nervous when they are left alone. While the main cause of separation anxiety is being left alone, there are numerous other causes, including changes in routine, breeding instincts and loud noises or other things that jolt the senses.
Separation anxiety usually begins within 15 to 20 minutes after the dog is separated from its owner. The anxiety usually lasts two to three hours. After this time, the dog is usually worn out and goes to sleep. Upon waking, the anxiety attack will begin again. While it isn’t uncommon for puppies to destroy things while the owner is gone, this is usually caused by boredom as opposed to separation anxiety. True separation anxiety doesn’t start until the dog is over six months old.
Each dog is different. As such, the signs and symptoms of separation anxiety vary greatly. The two symptoms that are the most common are chewing on forbidden items and urinating indoors. Other signs include digging, constant barking, loss of appetite, jumping, howling, defecating in the wrong places and appetite changes. The more severe the anxiety, the more signs you will notice.
There are numerous treatments available for separation anxiety. For less severe cases, behavior modification is the suggested treatment. This includes leaving the dog with appropriate chew toys and other distractions. Spending time with the dog when you are home can alleviate some of the stress. Giving the dog its own area while you are away can help too. A dog crate is ideal for this. For more severe cases, medication is sometimes necessary to help the dog stay calm.
In rare instances, some dogs experience separation anxiety that is so severe it is life-threatening. In the most severe cases, dogs may hyperventilate or stop breathing all together. Without appropriate intervention, the dog will die. Dog owners that notice breathing problems in the dog should take the dog to the veterinarian immediately.
In fact, it is so common that dogs suffer from separation anxiety that there are actually products on the market made specifically for separation anxiety in dogs. You could spend quite a bit of money on these commercial remedies and you could create your own homemade medicine for separation anxiety for your dog. There are many homemade and homeopathic remedies for separation anxiety in dogs that have proven successful with other dog owners. There are also many behavior modifications and steps to take to be proactive about your dog’s separation anxiety.
While it is normal for a dog to occasionally chew a sock or a book, coming home to all the blinds in your home torn down and chewed up is not normal. And while it is acceptable to occasionally come home to an accident because you can assume the dog just couldn’t hold it, it is not acceptable to come home to “presents” all around your home. Other unacceptable behaviors are incessant barking, whining and chewing while the dog is alone.
Once you have determined your dog is indeed suffering from separation anxiety there are a few steps you can take to begin being proactive with your homemade medicine for the separation anxiety your dog has. For example, begin by crate-training your dog. This is not cruel or inhumane in fact is it commonly known that dogs feel safer in a “den” type setting. If crating is not successful try putting everything out of the reach of your dog.
Make sure when you leave and when you come home you are doing so quietly and not making a scene. When your energies change your dog senses this. If you act calm and do not cause a scene, the dog will not know if you left for four hours or ran outside to get the mail.
Dogs need exercise and there is no way around this. Try walking your dog every day for 30 minutes, more if you can. Many dog owners have noticed a difference in the severity of their dog’s separation anxiety when they walk the dog more often. When the dog is walked and exercised he is able to get rid of much of that nervous energy.
Aromatherapy is a very well known and widely used homeopathic and homemade medicine for separation anxiety in dogs. Dogs have a more sensitive sense of smell, therefore it is believed that aromatherapy is actually more successful for dogs than for humans.
In the realm of aromatherapy there are certain “calming” scents such as lavender, juniper, chamomile, orange, basil, lemon, bergamot and frankincense. Lavender and bergamot both possess calming properties whereas frankincense has the ability to calm, relax and even reduce the stress that is felt in a separation anxiety situation. About an hour before you leave the home you can begin burning a few drops of the aromatherapy oil.
Homemade medicine for separation anxiety in dogs can also be in the form of herbs. An herbal remedy that can be made at home is combining ginger root, valerian root, and chamomile and passion flower. It is believed that while herbal homemade medicines take longer to take effect they are natural and efficient at decreasing the symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs.
There is an herb called Ashwagandha root that has also been successful in curing separation anxiety in dogs. It is said that Ashwagandha root, also known as Winter Cherry, effectively treats the symptoms of anxiety and depression the dog may feel. Rhodiola Rosea L. is an herb that is known to create a sense of balance and harmony which makes it more difficult for the separation anxiety to set in.
There are certain times in which a dog needs help calming down. Some dogs can become over-stressed during car or plane rides, while others require assistance with anxiety during thunderstorms or fireworks. There are also instances in which dogs become severely distressed when left alone, which is also called separation anxiety. Whatever the situation, there are usually medications that can alleviate the problem.
Car and Plane Rides
When your pet rides in a car or plane, he may become stressed or anxious. When in a car, the movement can seem strange to him because it’s faster and different than what he is used to. In addition, the objects that are seen through the window can cause fear, as well. If your dog is traveling on a plane, you may have the option of taking him with you at your seat if he is small enough. Otherwise, he may have to travel in a separate compartment that is typically unmonitored. If you feel your dog may need medication to calm him for this ride, the safest medication to try is Benadryl. This has a sedating effect on some dogs and may provide enough for yours. Medication that will totally tranquilize your dog is not a good idea, especially on a plane. Dogs on calming drugs need to be monitored and unless you can watch your dog, using strong medication is not advised. Since the dosage of Benadryl depends upon the weight of the dog, be sure to ask your veterinarian what to give your dog.
Dogs who have anxiety brought on by separation or fear, or dogs who have natural nervous and anxious dispositions, can be helped with medication that is prescribed by veterinarians. Clomipramide is a drug that can assist in reducing separation anxiety. Used in conjunction with behavior modification, clomipramide can help dogs calm down so that they can better concentrate on what their behavior exercises have taught them.
Valium can help dogs who are frightened by loud noises such as fireworks or thunder storms. This drug needs to be administered under the close supervision of a veterinarian, as long-term use can cause health problems. Furthermore, the dosage needs to be closely monitored to ensure the appropriate amount is prescribed.
Dogs who have generally nervous or anxious dispositions may be helped with medications such as amitryptiline or fluoxetine. These drugs may help to relieve the nervous energy your dog constantly feels. These medications are available through a veterinarian and should only be used in dogs with serious conditions.
If you would like to treat your dog’s stress with a more natural approach, try using herbal or homeopathic medications. Rescue Remedy, available at pet stores, uses a variety of flower essences to calm dogs and can be used for acute onsets of anxiety or for chronic situations. In addition, other products such as PetCalm tablets and Ultra-Calm treats use herbs to help dogs relax in stressful situations. You can also try the use of pheromones to calm your pet. Dog Appeasing Pheromones, also called DAP, mimic the mother dog’s pheromones to naturally relax your pet. Available in a diffuser or spray, DAP can be helpful with separation anxiety and relieving stress.
Anxiety and fear are quite common in dogs. Many owners struggle to find ways in which to help their four-legged friend cope with fear. There are different kinds of anxiety or fear that a dog may encounter, including noise fear, separation anxiety, and object phobia. Understanding what the cause of the fear or anxiety is will help in knowing how to treat the your dog. With patience, a fearful or anxious dog, can learn to overcome it.
****Realize the worst thing you can do when your dog is fearful is coddle him, as this will reassure him that there really is something to be afraid of. This is the hardest part for most pet owners, since it is natural to want to comfort your dog when he is fearful or anxious, but doing so only adds to the fear. If your dog is fearful of noise, such as thunder or other loud noises, act calmly as if the noise is very natural. Your dog takes his queue from you. If you are anxious, he will be more anxious. When he is calm, praise him for the behavior and give him a treat as a reward. If he is nervous or anxious, do your best to ignore the behavior and do not offer a treat as comfort since this reinforces the anxious behavior.
****Observe your dog’s behavior and what he does when you leave. Dogs with separation anxiety will often chew items or become destructive when left alone. Several examples of separation anxiety may be excessive barking, urinating in the house or destructive behavior. In some cases, all three of these examples and more are exhibited by dogs with this condition. If your dog chews up your shoes or furniture only when you leave him alone, chances are he is suffering from separation anxiety. When you know you will be leaving your dog alone, don’t make the event a big deal and do not fuss more over your dog before you are leaving, this will simply cause more anxiety. When you return home, you dog will go nuts wanting to greet you, don’t make the greeting period a huge event, keep calm.
****Your best scenario in teaching your pet not to feel scared when you are not there is to crate him for short periods of time. Slowly extending the amount of time, as the dog feels more comfortable. If you must be away for longer periods of time, ‘practice’ runs may be a possibility in between. As often as you can, recreate the atmosphere of you leaving the house, and coming back in short spurts, WHILE he is getting used to the longer stays, as well. If you find that even the confinement of the crate is causing a problem, try different locations. By a sliding door so he can see outside, or by a window, so there is lots of light. This may make a difference.
****Leave an article of clothing or a blanket or towel out so your dog can pick up your scent while you’re gone. This can comfort the dog and help with separation anxiety. Also, leave a radio on or the TV so they can hear human voices like if your were home.
****Act like you are going to leave, but don’t. Get your car keys and your coat, for instance, but then sit down for while. Practice doing this until your dog shows no sign of separation anxiety. Take step four further by stepping outside the house and closing the door, but return quickly. Do this over and over, each time staying on the other side of the closed door, until your dog remains calm when you “leave.” Continue to leave the house for longer and longer periods. Start with ten minutes and keep expanding the time until your dog gets used to your absence and can thus deal with separation anxiety.
****Taking your dog to a dog daycare may be an option if your dog does not like the crate and if your dog is very active. The exercise and mental stimulation at the daycare should help your dog overcome separation anxiety. Or hire a pet sitter or dog walker to stop in throughout the day to walk your dog or spend some time with him.
****Make sure to introduce your dog to any new objects in your home. Some dogs become anxious over new items in their environment such as furniture, boxes, and exercise equipment. When you bring something new into your home, allow your dog to sniff it and walk around it, and if he appears fearful, be close to him when exploring the new object. When he is not acting fearful, praise him and offer a treat.
Tips & Warnings
~ Sniffing is the way a dog familiarizes himself with his environment, so allow your dog to sniff everything new that comes into your house.
~Since dogs are pack animals, they are use to being with a group. Having another dog or even a cat can sometimes lessen your dogs fears or anxieties.
~ Some dogs will actually need medication in order to help with the anxiety. If treats and a calm disposition on your part do not help, you should see your veterinarian about other options, or seek some advice from a Canine Behavioral Therapist and Trainer.