Dealing with Separation Anxiety in your Dog.

You may recall the recent occasion where the Kitty and Canine Underhill clan members banded together and hijacked this blog, ‘celebrating’ having their humans around more during lock-down and therefore having their every whim met? Let me assure you all that normal service has been resumed and Karl (yours truly) is King once more, of the keyboard if not the couch!

Whilst my own pets are fairly chilled out, despite them not having the smoothest starts to their lives (we adopted them from shelters), I appreciate that not everyone has pets like ours. At the best of times, animals like routine and constancy and the disruption to lives recently with the Covid-19 situation has created unprecedented levels of flux. We are all aware, as pet owners, that our beloved fur babies are sensitive to our emotions, and even the most stoic, level-headed individuals have become more stressed in these times – including me; something our pets pick up on.

So let me just summarise the last couple of months generally: pre-Covid life consisted of getting up, going to work, coming home, going to the gym/supermarket/pub etc., coming home and then going to sleep – with a couple of walkies for the pooches slotted in at intervals suited to your own routine. Daily life had a fairly steady pattern to it, yes? Then Coronavirus came along and literally turned everything on its head; for the majority of workers (excluding business owners and essential key-workers) days suddenly consisted of get up, stay in at home (except for the 1 hour per day when you could walk/run in your locale), eat, sleep.

The structure of your pets’ day changed too, and for those with any Separation Anxiety issues this was great: their human suddenly wasn’t leaving them alone, and the general nose levels outside were significantly reduced. Win-win.

Now that some work places are reopening, life is tentatively beginning to try and go back to how it was pre-Covid. For those pooch’s who find life alone stressful, a bit of forward planning by their owner will pay huge dividends for their happiness and well-being. Some of you may well have thought about this already and begun training (which is great!), but if you are needing some inspo – keep reading, I’ve got you covered 🙂 ……

Many of us lavish money on toys for our hounds; both my girls have a selection that rivals Jesse’s box of tricks (!), but it’s worth splashing out on an item specifically for when your dog is left alone. What shape this toy takes will depend on the personality of your furry family member; maybe they like puzzle-type toys, perhaps they like to chew, or possibly they enjoy food treats? Whatever they like, there’s something on the market to suit them. A ‘Kong’ toy stuffed with peanut butter (for example) will keep Fido occupied for quite some time, as will a meaty tasting chew. Treat balls or cubes filled with their favourite kibble treats will keep them active too as they move it around to release the edible treasure within. It’s vitally important that this toy is only used for when you’re not going to be with your dog, and it’s equally important to remove it from circulation when you get home.

If you do use any kind of foodstuffs or chewy treats with a nutritional value, then please adjust your dogs calorie allowance for that day accordingly; please, no portly pooch’s coming to see us at Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre if at all avoidable.

For some dogs it’s noise disturbance that triggers their anxiety; it could be noises emanating from outside (a car horn or factory alarm) that sets them off barking, or something as simple as seeing

people or other dogs walk past the window. Simple solutions are to close the curtains/blinds so they can’t see outside or leave the T.V or radio on to reduce the impact of outside noises on their senses.

Now that some social distancing measures are being relaxed, you’re permitted to drive to get to exercise spots and to exercise for more than one hour, which means Fido can explore his/her favourite walkies routes and do their ablutions in a relaxed way before you’re planning to go out again. Just make sure you leave at least 30 minutes between returning home and leaving them alone once more, so they have chance to relax again; feeding them a small meal may help this further – I know that exercise and then eating chills me out 🙂

If poochy has a toileting mishap whilst you’ve left him alone try not to get cross – it won’t have been done in temper or defiance; all that will happen is they will be more anxious about what happens next time. Separation anxiety isn’t dissimilar to a panic attack in humans; Ok, Fido doesn’t get sweaty palms per se, but his/her body has a surge of stress hormones running riot through it. There is wide spectrum in the severity of behaviour associated with separation anxiety, from pacing and whining at one end, to dogs injuring themselves whilst distressed at the other.

Long-term (Covid decline permitting) it might also be worth engaging the services of a dog walker or a pet sitter if you have to leave your precious fur-baby for substantial periods of time. Although here at SLVC we wouldn’t advise you leaving your dog for 4 hours or more, we do appreciate it isn’t always possible, and these 2 services may help them immensely.

Sometimes, despite your dedicated efforts, your pooch may still be stressed and unhappy; if this is the case, please get in touch with us. Here at Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre we can refer you to a clinical animal behaviourist who will get to the root cause of the separation anxiety and develop a specific treatment schedule that is workable for the both of you.

We can also prescribe relaxing nutritional supplements as well as anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) drugs for your canine companion. This is a long-term treatment option; anxiolytics take between 4-8 weeks to start and be effective, and then there will need to be annual blood tests performed. The SLVC team can also supply you with ‘event specific’ medications for you to give your furry companion when a trigger will happen, and these are used alongside training to minimise anxiety when you have to leave home.

It seems fitting that I’m writing this blog as ‘Mental Health Awareness’ week is drawing to a close. Remember it’s OK not to be OK – but don’t stay silent; whether it’s for you or Fido, there is help and support out there, so just reach out.

Until next time; stay safe (and alert!), stay well, and be happy 🙂