Many pets whine or complain when their owner leaves the house, but pets affected by separation anxiety experience high stress levels that can be damaging to their mental and physical health. In addition to detrimental effects on your pet’s quality of life, this behavior can also result in damage to your home. Our team at Urgent Pet Care Omaha wants to help you manage your pet’s separation anxiety, to improve their wellbeing and your peace of mind.

Understanding separation anxiety in pets

If your pet is affected by separation anxiety, they are not misbehaving when they display anxious behavior when left alone. They are experiencing marked distress that is triggered when they are separated from their owner. What causes separation anxiety is unknown, but genetics and environmental factors likely play a role. Pets who were orphaned, bottle-fed, weaned too early, or abandoned tend to be more prone to developing the condition. Pets also have been known to develop separation anxiety when they experience life changes, including:

  • Family changes — When a family member passes away or moves, separation anxiety can be triggered.
  • Home changes — When a pet is rehomed, or moves with their family to a new home, they can develop separation anxiety.
  • Routine changes — When a pet experiences changes in their routine, such as an owner starting a new job or going back to work after working at home for an extended period, separation anxiety can result.

Recognizing separation anxiety signs in pets

Separation anxiety can affect dogs and cats, but they tend to exhibit the condition differently. Signs in dogs include:

  • Vocalization — Dogs frequently bark or whine when their owner leaves.
  • Destructive behavior — Affected dogs tend to chew or claw at doors and walls, and may shred items such as couch cushions and clothing.
  • Pacing — Restless pacing back and forth is common, especially when the owner is preparing to leave.
  • Drooling — Affected dogs may excessively salivate when left alone.
  • Accidents — Dogs may urinate or defecate inside when separated from their owner.

Signs in cats include:

  • Inappropriate elimination — Affected cats may urinate or defecate outside their litter box, often on their owner’s personal items, such as bedding or clothing.
  • Vocalization — Cats may yowl or meow persistently when left alone.
  • Vomiting — Affected cats frequently vomit when separated from their owner.
  • Excessive grooming — Cats may groom excessively, sometimes injuring themselves.
  • Destructive behavior — Affected cats may shred curtains or furniture, or knock over objects.

Managing separation anxiety in pets

If your pet is exhibiting signs that could indicate they are suffering from separation anxiety, you should have a veterinary professional examine them, to ensure a medical issue is not causing the signs. Once a health condition has been ruled out, steps to manage separation anxiety include:

  • Establish a safe zone — Designate a room in your home or your pet’s crate as their safe zone. This should be a place where they can relax and feel safe. Ensure they have all their essential items, such as food and water bowls, comfortable bedding, toys, and a litter box, if needed. Once they are settled, you can offer a food-puzzle toy to keep them occupied.
  • Identify triggers — Most pets pick up on their owner’s departure cues and become anxious before their owner leaves the house. Examples include jangling your keys, picking up your purse, putting on your shoes, and turning out the lights. Go through your regular departure routine, and identify when your pet starts becoming distressed.
  • Separate the triggers — Once you know what triggers your pet’s anxiety, start practicing these behaviors without leaving home. Repeat these sessions several times a day, until your pet no longer responds to those cues.
  • Reward calm behavior — Reward your pet when they remain calm when you are practicing behaviors that would typically indicate you are leaving. This will help your pet positively associate these cues.
  • Practice absences — Once your pet remains calm when you go through your regular departure routine, walk outside and come right back. You can gradually increase the time you are absent.
  • Provide exercise — Exercise your pet vigorously before leaving for the day. A tired, content pet is more likely to remain calm than one who has excess energy to burn.
  • Keep greetings drama free — Don’t be dramatic when saying hello or goodbye to your pet. Time your exit when your pet is distracted with a food puzzle toy. When you return home, wait until your pet is calm before giving them your attention.
  • Provide environmental stimulation — Leave the television on or music playing, to stimulate your pet. You can also place a bird feeder near your pet’s favorite window perch, to provide entertainment.
  • Don’t punish — Your pet is not misbehaving, and punishment will only increase their anxiety and make the situation worse. 
  • Consider medication — If your pet continues to be anxious, talk to our veterinary professionals to see if anti-anxiety medication could help.

Separation anxiety is a concerning issue, but steps can be taken to manage this condition. If you believe your pet is suffering from separation anxiety, schedule an appointment with your family veterinarian. However, if an urgent situation arises, contact our team at Urgent Pet Care Omaha for help.