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Separation Anxiety

Posted by Shawn Goh on

Separation anxiety is quite a common problem that pet parents run into, when they leave their pets alone. It usually presents itself as distressed behavior when you are preparing to leave the house.

Signs of Separation Anxiety

Some pets will show milder signs, even before you leave the house, such as pacing, making sounds such as meowing, whimpering, howling, or barking, some pets also start self-grooming or self soothing. Some pets will escape their enclosure, or even the house. For more serious cases of separation anxiety, some pets will show destructive chewing, or other destructive behaviors when you are away. In more extreme cases, some pets will pee or poo in places other than where they are trained to go, while you are away.


It is important to note however, that some of these behaviors alone may not confirm that your pet has separation anxiety. There may be some other behavioral problems that contribute to such behavior. But usually a combination of some these behaviors would suggest that your pet has separation anxiety.


Be sure to rule out other common issues like teething, which can also cause destructive chewing. Submissive peeing or pooing and improper training can also make your pet pee or poo somewhere they are not supposed to.


Why do pets get Separation Anxiety?

Pets don’t like change in general. They like routine and familiarity, as it makes them feel secure. Moving to a new home, changes at home like changes in family members, or even changes to the routine can trigger the development of separation anxiety.


How to Deal with Separation Anxiety?

Firstly, how you deal with mild cases of separation anxiety vs more serious cases of separation anxiety varies greatly.


For milder cases of separation anxiety, we can get your pet to associate you going out with something positive like special food, treats, or toys. Only give your pet that special item when you are going out. And remember to remove the special item once you come home, so that your pet only gets that item when you are out. That way, your pet will associate you going out with getting that special item.


You can get a toy like a Kong wobbler (or Kong Cat Wobbler), which can be stuffed with kibble or even special treats like peanut butter, cheese or canned food. You can replace a meal with this method, so that your pet is more motivated to go for the toy. For example, you can stuff your pet’s breakfast inside the Kong wobbler together with some treats, and give it to your pet just before leaving for work.


For cats, you can give your cats catnip, or a special toy that is covered with catnip. This will make your cat go crazy for the toy. Only give your cat the toy just as you are leaving, and don’t let your cat have it when you are around.


For more serious cases of separation anxiety, this method will not work as the anxiety deeper and your pet may not be in the mood to play or even eat while you are away.


For cases where your pet starts showing signs of separation anxiety as you prepare to leave, you need to desensitize them to you preparing to leaving. For example, if your pet starts to show signs when you wear your shoes, then wear your shoes, but do not leave, and continue doing what you normally do at home (you might want to use clean shoes for this). Repeat this behavior until your pet stops associating you wearing your shoes, with you leaving. This may take many, many repetitions, especially if your dog has seen you preparing to leave many times before.


If your pet doesn’t show signs of separation anxiety when you prepare to leave, then you can move on to leaving for a short period of time. Try to keep the time you are out to shorter than the time it takes for your pet to show signs of separation anxiety. An ip camera would be helpful to see what happens when you are out. Or if you have a digital camera lying around, with a big enough memory stick, you can record what happens and watch it when you return.


Try not to make a big deal when you leave or when you return. It would be best not to say bye or greet your pet at all, but a calm and simple hello and good bye can work. Do not get excited, or give your pet attention if they are very excited. Wait till your pet calms down before greeting your pet and giving them attention.


As your pet gets used to you being away, gradually increase the amount of time that you are away. The speed which you increase the time you are away depends on how well your pet handles it. It can vary greatly from one pet to another. But the general rule of thumb is to start slowly and increase faster if your pet handles it well.


The whole time you are training you pet, it is important to note that you don’t want to let them deal with the separation anxiety, meaning go out for a long time, as letting them experience separation anxiety at this stage will undermine the training that they are going through. You can send your pet to a relative’s place or to a pet day care service, or if possible, bring your pet to work.

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