Separation Anxiety in Pets and Pet Owners: A Guide for Fur-Parents

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Separation anxiety is a condition where one experiences a wave of negative emotions from being physically away from the subject of his affection. Although this has been widely discussed in human-to-human relationships, it is also present in households with pets.

As a dog owner, your responsibility goes beyond just calling yourself a “pet parent.” You can’t just buy your dog a tag and go on about your life the way it was before you took him in. You have to be invested in pet care for the long run.

This means that you should provide and care for him. It also means you have to be ready to help your pet through separation anxiety, which is inevitable when you need to step out of the house. Also, remember that the intense feeling of sadness during separation can go both ways: a pup missing his owner and a fur-parent missing his fur-baby.

Dogs show their anxiety over being away from their owners through excessive whining, urination or defecation, barking or howling, and even destructive behaviour. For humans, it can be much more subtle and, thus, more challenging to determine.

This article aims to shed some light on separation anxiety as experienced by dogs and their owners, and how you can make it easier to overcome for both you and your canine friend.

3 Ways to Ease Separation Anxiety in Your Dog

Separation anxiety is fairly common in pets, but the symptoms vary. In fact, it’s very easy to mistake these symptoms as a dog’s way to show his devotion and unconditional love for his owner.

However, when your dog paws and pants every time you walk out the door (even just to fetch the mail), he may already be feeling anxious about you leaving him. In some cases, dogs that exhibit at least one of the following signs could be suffering from separation anxiety:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Whining, barking, or howling before the owner leaves, which continues through most of the time the owner and pet are separated
  • Irregular defecation or urination in random spots every time he’s alone or believes he’s alone
  • Destructive behaviour

If you find that your pet exhibits one or more of these symptoms, it is important that you take action by following the tips below:

  1. Ignore him before you go and when you arrive

Before you go and when you arrive, you should make it a point to ignore your pet’s attempt at getting your attention. Whether he is whining, barking, jumping, or pawing, you must avoid engaging your dog. Glancing, touching, or talking to him would only reinforce these attention-seeking behaviours and increase his anxiety when you have to head out again.

Expect these behaviours to worsen after you don’t pay attention to him the first time. It will also help if you do this 30 minutes before you leave to prevent his anxious behaviour as you’re getting ready to head out.

Upon your arrival, don’t engage with your pet immediately. It would be best to let him relax from his welcome-home frenzy first before you interact with him. While these may sound a bit harsh, they are necessary to prevent your dog from thinking that going in a frenzy will be rewarded by attention.

  1. Don’t punish or yell at him

It is also crucial that you avoid yelling or punishing him physically if the house is a mess when you arrive, as it would only make the anxiety worse. Remember that these are signs of your pet’s clinical anxiety, which means he’s not in control of what he’s doing.

  1. Take him out for a walk before you leave

Before you go out, try to bring him for a brisk walk at the start of the day. You can also choose to make it a bit more rigorous by using a doggie backpack for added weight.

Once your dog feels tired, you can reward his calm-submissive energy with water and food. You may also allow him to rest before eating, but make sure that he is hydrated enough as soon as you arrive home.

This way, you can leave your dog home in a resting mode.

Easing Your Own Anxiety: 3 Things Fur-Parents Can Do

Having a pet is much like being in a mutual relationship – what he feels may also apply to you. With that said, it is also possible for pet owners to experience anxiety from getting separated from their fur babies.

Some of the signs that you may be suffering from this type of anxiety during separation are:

  • Irrational fear of circumstances that are unlikely to happen (e.g., the pet being kidnapped)
  • Looking for excuses to stay home
  • Difficulty or inability to stay focused at work or in activities that keep you away from your pet
  • Obsessing over the separation
  • Unexplainable nausea, diarrhoea, stomachaches, headaches, and other physical manifestations of stress and anxiety

Fortunately, pet separation anxiety for fur-parents can also be managed. You only need to practise thoughtfulness and prepare for the separation well to give you the peace of mind that your pet would be fine while you’re away. Some of the things that can help you achieve this include:

  1. Hiring reliable pet care

Some pet owners find it reassuring to leave their dogs in pet care facilities or with sitters. To ease your anxiety further, you can do a background check on the person or facility first before entrusting your furry pal to them. The more familiar you are with the people acting as caregivers for your pet, the more at ease you will be when you leave.

  1. Leaving your pet in a safe space

Make sure that your dog is in a safe place whenever you cannot be with him. If he’s at home, keep the place puppy-proofed and put any potential hazards out of their reach. All the doors and exits should also be locked.

Of course, safety goes beyond preventing him from being run over by speeding vehicles or hurt from falling knives. You also need to prepare all his provisions, like food, water, and shelter, before you leave.

If you’re leaving him with a friend, you can look for a dog food delivery service and have his favourite treats sent to the house he’s staying at in case his supplies run out. This way, you’ll be assured that he is safe and happy.

The knowledge that nothing can potentially harm your fur-baby in your absence can help reduce – if not  eliminate – your anxiety.

  1. Practise staying apart at home

In some cases, people experience separation anxiety from their pets because they are always close to their fur-babies. If this is the case, you can ease your anxiety whenever you leave your dog home by practising being apart.

As you and your pet become accustomed to having your own personal space, those times when you have to leave home won’t feel as awful, even if you need to be separated for extended periods of time.

Get Through the Separation with Ease

As much as you might want to stay with your pet at home, things like work and other responsibilities may require you to leave him. Make sure that you and your pet get through the separation with ease by following the tips listed in this article.

AUTHOR BIO

Farah Al-Khojai is the Managing Partner of Pet’s Delight. A passionate entrepreneur, Farah holds a Bsc in Government from the London School of Economics. She is always on the lookout for new opportunities to develop and grow the pet and equestrian retail and wholesale market in the UAE and beyond, and is proud to be at the helm of the first and the largest pet care provider in the market representing world-class brands including Orijen, Applaws, Hunter, Savic, Flamingo, Ruffwear and Rogz.

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