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Separation Anxiety in Dogs and Cats

Separation anxiety is a condition that affects countless pets worldwide. When the kids head off to school and families leave for work in the morning, pets can become nervous and anxious, worried that their paw-rents may not return. Understanding this condition is crucial for providing the care and support your pet needs to stay calm and relaxed until you return home.

By implementing some training and daily routines, we can improve the quality of life for our pets and strengthen the bond we share with them.

Signs of Separation Anxiety

Signs of separation anxiety in dogs can include:

  • Having accidents indoors

  • Destructive behaviour: chewing on furniture, frantic scratching on doors or walls

  • Self-harm: pulling out fur, scratching skin

  • Drooling or excessive panting

  • Barking for prolonged periods of time

  • Howling

  • Whimpering

  • Pacing

Cats, known for their independent and self-reliant nature, can also experience separation anxiety. While it may manifest differently compared to dogs, there are several common signs to watch out for. Here are some key indicators that your cat may be suffering from separation anxiety:

  • Excessive vocalisation

  • Destructive behaviour (scratching furniture, chewing on household items, or attempting to escape from confined spaces.)

  • Inappropriate elimination. Cats may urinate or defecate outside their litter box when experiencing separation anxiety. This behaviour is often a response to stress and can occur even in cats who are otherwise perfectly litter trained.

  • Excessive grooming. Cats may excessively groom themselves, resulting in hair loss or the formation of bald patches.

  • Loss of appetite

  • Hiding or withdrawal

  • Aggressive behaviour

It's important to note that these signs can also be indicative of other health or behavioural issues. If you suspect your dog or cat may be suffering from separation anxiety, it's advisable to consult with one of our qualified vets for an accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment plan.

Preventing Separation Anxiety

Preventing separation anxiety in both cats and dogs requires proactive measures and a consistent approach, including:

  • Counter-conditioning and desensitisation (by associating the pet's fear of a situation with something good such as a treat) and gradually increasing the length of absences.

  • Mental stimulation and environmental enrichment by providing your pet with regular exercise and games or interactive toys.

Here are our top tips for keeping pets happy and relaxed while you’re away from home:

1. Early socialisation. Expose your pet to different people, animals, and environments from a young age. This helps them develop confidence, adaptability, and resilience, making them more comfortable when left alone.

2. Create a positive association with alone time. Teach your pet that being alone is not a negative experience. Gradually increase the duration of time they spend alone, starting with short intervals and gradually extending it over time. Use positive reinforcement techniques, such as treats or toys, to reward them for calm and relaxed behaviour during these periods.

3. Establish a consistent routine. Create a predictable daily routine for your pet. Consistency in feeding, exercise, playtime, and alone time can provide a sense of security and stability. Knowing what to expect can help alleviate anxiety when you're away.

4. Provide mentally stimulating toys and puzzles that can engage your pet's attention and keep them occupied during alone time. These toys can help divert their focus from your absence and provide a positive and rewarding experience.

5. If you have a dog, crate training can be beneficial in preventing separation anxiety. Gradually introduce your dog to the crate, associate it with positive experiences, and create a comfortable and secure space for them. The crate can serve as a safe haven when you're away.

6. Ensure your pet's environment is enriched with toys, scratching posts (for cats), and interactive activities. This helps keep them mentally stimulated, reduces boredom and prevents them from focusing solely on your absence. Pheromone products such as Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats may help to provide reassurance and comfort.

7. Invest time in training your pet to follow basic commands and obedience cues. This not only strengthens the bond between you and your pet but also instils confidence and a sense of structure, reducing anxiety when you're not around.

8. Avoid making departures and arrivals overly dramatic or emotional. Keep them low-key and uneventful to help normalise your comings and goings. This can help your pet learn that your departures are temporary and not a cause for anxiety.

Remember, each pet is unique and prevention methods may need to be adjusted based on their individual temperament and experiences. Consistency, patience and positive reinforcement are key when implementing these preventive measures. By taking proactive steps to prevent separation anxiety, you can help ensure your pet's emotional well-being and create a harmonious relationship based on trust and security.

IMPORTANT: Severe cases of separation anxiety may require medications. Please consult with us before giving your cat or dog any type of medication for a behaviour problem. We're here to help!


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