Separation anxiety is a common complaint among pet owners. When our pets exhibit problematic behaviors after we leave the home, stress, nervousness, or tension are often to blame. In well-adjusted pets, separation anxiety is rarely a problem, but the condition is common among pets who have been rehomed, or experienced psychological trauma, such as abuse or neglect. Anxiety and stress can seem like simple annoyances, but they often indicate a bigger problem, so these behaviors in your pet should not be ignored—especially when they are related to them being left alone. While a longing gaze out the window as you depart is unlikely cause for concern, following are some clues that your pet may be suffering from separation anxiety.

  • Your pet vocalizes excessively — Depending on your pet’s breed and personality, vocalizing can manifest in many ways. While Basset hounds and bloodhounds tend to bay, huskies often have a high-pitched bark, and other dogs howl. Whatever your pet’s preference, vocalizing that becomes extreme or unreasonable when you leave the home  could indicate separation anxiety. You may not always know if your dog barks, bays, or howls after you leave, but your neighbors likely will be quick to inform you—especially if you live in an apartment or condominium. Closing window shades or curtains may help abate the noise if your pet’s behavior is worse if they watch you leave.
  • Your pet is destructive — One of the most commonly reported behaviors related to separation anxiety is destruction of toys, furniture, carpeting, or other items around the home. Whether you’re finding chewed baseboards, torn couch cushions, or garbage strewn about, these behaviors are enough to make any pet owner crazy. While mildly destructive behavior is expected in puppies and kittens who are still learning about acceptable home conduct, destroying property is not normal in properly trained adult pets, and is especially worrisome when accompanied by other anxious behaviors. If your pet is happy to spend time in a crate, play pen, or other small space, you may consider keeping them confined during your time away.
  • Your pet tries to escape When pets feel anxious, their fight-or-flight instinct takes over, and they may attempt to flee the home. You may find broken or torn window screens, scratched door frames, or holes under fences or other yard barriers, and you may come home to an empty house, if they escape. To minimize the chances of your pet taking off, ensure that all window casings are secure, and never leave open windows or doors. If possible, leave your pet indoors or, if you must leave them outside, provide a secure enclosure so they cannot escape.
  • Your pet paces, is restless, or self-mutilates — People pace, fidget, and bite their nails when nervous, and anxious pets can exhibit similar actions. You may notice your pet walking from room to room with no apparent purpose, licking themselves repeatedly, or nibbling on their toes. These behaviors aren’t always bothersome, but nervous licking or chewing habits could lead to pesky sores or skin infections. Not sure if your pet is showing signs of restlessness? Try installing a small video camera in your home, focusing on the room where your pet spends most of their time. You may be surprised what your furry friend does when you’re not around.
  • Your pet has urinary or bowel accidents — If you’re noticing foul odors or puddles when you come home, your pet could be dealing with an anxiety-related urine and defecation problem. While we don’t fully understand the etiology of this behavior, some pets, who are already house trained, will regress, and have accidents while the owner is away—and, intentional or not, coming home to feces and urine all over your carpet or flooring is not pleasant. While this behavior can be related to separation anxiety, other medical conditions can also be the cause of accidents in the home, and you should notify our veterinary team. 

Separation anxiety in pets may seem like a nuisance, but this real problem can have substantial consequences. Leaving this condition untreated may lead to worsening behavioral problems, weakened owner-pet relationships, and perhaps relinquishment to the animal shelter.

Helping your pet overcome separation anxiety is not easy, but possible. Conditioning your pet to feel at-ease while home alone is the foundation of managing this condition. Start by offering your pet a long-lasting treat when you leave, so they develop a positive association with your departure. Don’t make a big deal about your exit, but rather slip out quietly. Try to make outings short in the beginning, if possible, while working up to longer trips.

If your pet continues to struggle with separation anxiety, seek help from Kennedy Heights Animals and Bird Hospital. Our veterinary team will help you teach your pet to enjoy—or at least tolerate—being home alone. Contact us to schedule an appointment.