Post Covid Separation Anxiety in Dogs

19 Apr 2022

Life after Covid - Back to Normal for us, but is it normal for your pet?

A little bit more than 2 years into the pandemic, it is certainly delightful to see life getting back to normal in a lot of places. However, while humans are busy getting back to our normal lives and going out and about, our pets are experiencing enormous changes to their lives as well!

Did you know that your pets can have separation anxiety?

Since lockdown has ended, I have been seeing a lot of cases where dogs develop separation anxiety, these patients feel anxious and unsettled when the owners are not around or out of sight. If you think about it, it is totally understandable from their point of view - your owner(s) have been spending time with you 24/7 in the house for 2 years and now suddenly, you are left alone at home for some time every day!

What causes Separation Anxiety?

The cause of the condition is actually unknown, but it could be extended from the pet's fear, generalised anxiety, over-attachment to owners and lack of appropriate mental stimulation.

Is it because my dog is not well trained?

Separation anxiety is not a training problem, it is an anxiety disorder that needs to be managed with veterinary help. It is important to seek veterinary advice and help early as many patients get worse as time goes on.

What are the signs to look out for?

After returning home, you may notice that:

  • Food and water untouched
  • Objects/ doors/ furniture at home are destroyed
  • Neighbours complaining about noises, barking and howling

You can also set up a camera at home, and monitor your dog while you are away. You may notice your dog doing these:

  • Salivating
  • Inappropriate urination and defaecation
  • Attempts to escape
  • Pacing
  • Trembling
  • Freezing
  • Panting

It may be useful to save these footages and bring it with you to the vet appointment.

How do I get a diagnosis?

It is important to book a veterinary appointment to properly diagnose separation anxiety before starting any intervention. Diagnosis of this condition will require a very detailed history taking, physical exam and possibly diagnostic tests to rule out any other possible causes (e.g. health problems, normal puppy/ adolescent behaviour etc.) that may contribute to the unwanted behaviour.

What are the treatment options for this?

Separation anxiety is an anxiety disorder and it would require a proper treatment plan with a veterinary behaviourist. They can tailor a treatment plan specifically for your pet and follow up with the treatment progress. In theory, treatment include behaviour medications, counterconditioning and desensitisation.

Anti-anxiety medications may be indicated to help reduce your pet's stress to a manageable level so you can start a behaviour modification program.

Counterconditioning occurs when the pet’s reaction to a stimulus is changed from one that is anxious or fearful to one that is positive and enjoyable. To accomplish this, a positive experience should be paired with the anxious stimulus (e.g. owners leaving the house).

Desensitisation is a technique of exposing the pet to a stimulus that would normally cause an undesirable reaction at an extremely low level so that there is no response. As the pet becomes less reactive, it is desensitised through exposure to gradually more intense levels of the stimulus.

However, there are also a few at home tips you can try to reduce the anxiety. These include:

  • Give your dog a chew or treat toy 5-10 minutes before leaving home. This creates a positive experience for your pet to associate with owners leaving the house. It would be best if the treat can last the pet a long period of time.
  • On arrival home, scatter treats on the ground to reduce jumping up and calmly acknowledge your dog (massage, stroking, slow-talking). No excitable voices or play for the first 5 minutes.
  • Leave classical music playing at home while you are away.
  • Try Adaptil diffuser in the home alone space or near your dog’s bed. This is a calming pheromone that is canine-specific with no side effects.

Let's end with a meme:
Jokes aside, separation anxiety can cause a lot of distress not only to the pet, but the owners and every one in the neighbourhood as well. Fortunately, with proper veterinary interventions, it is a very manageable and treatable condition.

Any other pet related topics you would want to know more about? Let me know in the comments below!

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Our lifestyle choices we made during the pandemic have changed as we emerge from it and some pets are struggling
Interesting to see from the pet’s perspective, that lockdowns can also cause them anxiety and not just humans!
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