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Pets Suffer Separation Anxiety with Back to School


Children are not the only ones to suffer separation anxiety: dogs and cats can exhibit abnormal behaviors when kids go back to school in the fall if the pets spent a lot of time with the children and family during the summer.

Separation anxiety can spark many different behaviors, including chewing or scratching at windows and doors, continuous barking or meowing, compulsive grooming, chewing or tearing up furniture or items, excessive drooling, and soiling the pet owner’s belongings. Any and all of these behaviors typically occur within the first 20 to 45 minutes of the owner leaving the pet. Although pet owners may believe that their pet is trying to punish them for leaving them alone, what the dog or cat is experiencing is panic.

To help reduce the pet’s anxiety level, it can help to make the dog or cat feel safe and familiar in its surroundings. For indoor pets, some people leave a television or radio on, make the pet’s toys readily available, or leave a pile of old clothes that have the scent of the family members on them. Dog owners should make sure they resume normal walking routines and that their pet gets sufficient exercise.

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The Humane Society of the United States notes that leaving a television or radio on is not especially helpful alone, but that such a move may work if it is done consistently as a “safety cue,” an action that pet owners use every time they leave the pet alone. The Humane Society offers a detailed explanation of how pet owners can use safety cues on their website.

For pets (especially dogs) that suffer with severe separation anxiety, a veterinarian may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication as a temporary measure. A good anti-anxiety drug will not sedate the dog but simply reduce his anxiety level. The Humane Society recommends using behavior modification techniques along with any medications. Other ways to help dogs with severe separation anxiety may be to take the pet to a dog day care facility or leave the dog with a neighbor or friend during the day.

Techniques that do not work for separation anxiety include punishing the dog, getting another dog for companionship, crating the dog, or training the dog. (Because separation anxiety is a panic response and not a result of disobedience, training is not helpful.)

Humane Society of the United States



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