Separation anxiety is a condition caused by a dog’s fear of being alone. It is the second leading cause of owners relinquishing dogs to shelters or having the dog euthanized. While the behaviors caused by separation anxiety are problematic, they are also treatable.
Dogs are pack animals by nature. In the wild, dogs are hardly, if ever, alone. This is the reason why they get nervous when they are left alone. While the main cause of separation anxiety is being left alone, there are numerous other causes, including changes in routine, breeding instincts and loud noises or other things that jolt the senses.
Separation anxiety usually begins within 15 to 20 minutes after being separated from the owner. The anxiety usually lasts two to three hours. After this time, the dog is usually worn out and goes to sleep. Upon waking, the anxiety attack will begin again. While it isn’t uncommon for puppies to destroy things while the owner is gone, this is usually caused by boredom as opposed to separation anxiety. True separation anxiety doesn’t start until the dog is over six months old. But, most dogs are at least 12 months old.
Each dog is different. As such, the signs and symptoms of separation anxiety vary greatly. The two symptoms that are the most common are chewing on forbidden items and urinating indoors. Other signs include digging, constant barking, loss of appetite, jumping, howling, defecating in the wrong places and appetite changes. The more severe the anxiety, the more signs you will notice.
There are numerous treatments available for separation anxiety. For less severe cases, behavior modification is the suggested treatment. This includes leaving the dog with appropriate chew toys and other distractions. Spending time with the dog when you are home can alleviate some of the stress. Giving the dog its own area while you are away is beneficial. A dog crate is ideal for this. For more severe cases, medication is sometimes necessary to help the dog stay calm.
In rare instances, some dogs experience separation anxiety that is so severe it is life threatening. In the most severe cases, dogs may hyperventilate or stop breathing all together. Without appropriate intervention, the dog will die. Dog owners that notice breathing problems in the dog should take the dog to the veterinarian immediately.