Two Tried Solutions for Relieving Separation Anxiety in Pets

Susanna Sisson's picture
Anxious Cat

Separation anxiety in dogs and other pets is a real problem, but Crate training and providing stimulation can possibly be working solutions to cure separation anxiety in pets.

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Have you ever come home to find your house in shambles, your couch destroyed, trash all over the floor, potted plants scattered across the living room floor, your bed pillows and sheets ripped to shreds, giant holes in your walls, doors, yard or garden or a note on your door from the animal control with a warning attached from the animal control officer and thought and thought why is this?
If you have, then you may be a pet owner.

I used these examples because I have experienced each and every scenario and I can attest to the fact it’s not fun, besides being extraordinarily expensive, to find your home and possessions destroyed. And, rather than resort to giving up a pet that is behaving badly and experiencing separation anxiety, it’s much better to find a workable solution.

The truth is dogs, cats, and even birds get bored. The average attention span of an animal is thought to be about 27 seconds. Dogs in particular forget an event within approximately 5 minutes. Cats appear to have a longer attention span and better memory, perhaps 200 times better than a dog. Birds, while having the smallest brain may have the longest memory span and certainly some have the ability to mimic language.

What does an animal experience? Do they have feelings and emotions? What about a soul? I grew up being told animals do not have souls but I have seen first-hand they can feel pain, sadness, depression, grief, fear, and anxiety, particularly when separated from their humans. Pets even suffer separation anxiety with back to school.

Why Dogs and Cats Develop Separation Anxiety

Linda Butts from Pawsometalk.com writes that the most significant reason cats develop separation anxiety is the lack of love and care by others. "If your cat does not receive the same affection from others during your absence, it may develop this separation anxiety. It is very much a natural phenomenon, and you cannot blame your pet for this," she writes. Then she offers some practical solutions to improve separation anxiety in your pets. "You can take your pet with you wherever you go. But at times it is not possible to move around with your pet on all occasions. For that situation, you should arrange for a person in your family who is equally attached to your pet and takes equal care of it just as you do. This will not make the cat feel alone and unattended," writes Butts.

I have tried dozens of things (short of drugs for me and doggie valium) to try to ensure a happy pet and happy human. I have spent hundreds of dollars on toys and bones, crates and kennels, and, even a bark collar out of shear desperation to improve my pet's separation anxiety

The Answer to Pet Separation Anxiety

According to pet expert and TV personality Cesar, you have to first determine whether the anxiety is real or a learned behavior. True separation anxiety causes extreme stress when the animal is separated from his human and may manifest in bad behaviors such as I’ve already mentioned or in physical issues. My parrot used to pick his feathers out when bored or feeling anxious. I have had dogs on the other hand that would pull out his fur if left alone. True anxiety can lead to a sick pet.

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Learned or simulated separation anxiety on the other hand may have everything to do with you and how you deal with leaving the house or returning. Dogs pick up on your emotions and look to you for how they are supposed to respond. So, it’s important to begin training early. Don’t make a fuss over the dog when having to leave the house or when you come home. They see the attention as a reward. Rehabilitation begins with letting the dog know what is expected of him.

I suggest two techniques that may help your dog or other pet to cope with separation anxiety.

1. Crate training

My dogs were never put in a crate unless traveling until that is, I rescued a puppy I named Bigfoot. The name is self-explanatory. While she had the biggest feet I’d ever seen on a puppy, I had no idea that within a few months she would turn into a 100 plus pound gorilla toddler, and while I have had dogs before that loved to chew, particularly shoes and underwear, I would never had a dog that would literally chew anything she could find.

First, it was a leather pillow, then a leather chair and with that, I’d had enough. I bought dog toys that were destroyed in seconds and had to resort finally to a rope toy that was larger than my upper arm and weighed about 10 pounds in order to have a toy that would last. And yet, she still chewed up two garden hoses, a plastic swimming pool and a yard rake. It soon became apparent I would have to either watch her like a hawk or figure out a way to keep her from chewing up my living room furniture so that she could be part of the family and not just relegated to the back yard. One thing for certain, she couldn’t be trusted for more than a few minutes, so, we began putting her in the crate for a few minutes at a time, allowing her to settle down and finally keeping her in a kennel all night or when we have to leave the house without a fuss.

I am not sure she’ll ever be completely trustworthy when it comes to chewing, at least not for a few years, but after all she is still a puppy. For now the crate works great.

2. Provide stimulation

Dogs and other animals are like people when it comes to boredom and they need to feel safe. When I leave the house I often leave the television on for my dogs and that seems to do the trick. But remember the neurotic parrot I mentioned? She just couldn’t seem to get over her anxiety, that is, until I decided one day to turn on the radio. It was amazing.

She almost immediately changed her demeanor. So, now, our routine is fresh food, water, a little lively banter and before I leave the room I turn on the radio to an oldies station.

Not only has she stopped picking her feathers, she might one day be a radio personality. With that measure of success I decided to try that with Bigfoot, the giant rescue who not only has a chewing problem, she barks at everything that moves. Wind blows and she barks. Bird flies and she barks. Someone walks by and WOOF! Now I play rock and roll for her in the back yard and it’s actually helping. It really is true that “music has the power to sooth the savage beast” or at least the barking Bigfoot.

Please share with us in comments what solutions have you found that work in soothing your dog's or cat's separation anxiety. Do you have any dog separation anxiety solutions or tips to share with us?

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