Sunday, February 14, 2010

Question: Separation Anxiety

Dr. Schaeberle,

My dog has been chewing my furniture, carpet & other small items when I’m at work. Does he have separation anxiety?



Hi William,

Although causing damage in the house can be a sign of separation anxiety, many dogs do not have separation anxiety, but are destructive simply because they are bored and do not have enough daily exercise.

An estimated 17% (10.7 million) of dogs in the United States suffer from separation anxiety. These are dogs that have developed an over-attachment to one or more people in the home and experience severe anxiety when the person or people leave the home. Common behaviors seen with separation anxiety include urination and defecation, destructive chewing, excessive barking or whining, drooling, pacing, vomiting, trembling and self mutilation (licking or chewing themselves). It’s important to know that these dogs are not exhibiting any of these behaviors due to “spite” or revenge at their owners for leaving them. Dogs do not even have the mental capacity to act in spiteful or revengeful ways. They do, however, react from stress. Separation anxiety is a severe form of stress, similar to panic attacks experienced by some people.

Although our lifestyles & the way we interact with our dogs can contribute to separation anxiety, most experts agree that many dogs have a genetic predisposition toward developing separation anxiety. Dogs who are re-homed, especially multiple times, can also develop separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety does not resolve without proper treatment and management. A comprehensive treatment plan including anti-anxiety medication and a behavior modification plan is essential. Left untreated, separation anxiety greatly decreases the dog’s quality of life and can lead to serious injury.

Thomas Schaeberle, VMD

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