Growing up we all had that moment of fear when our parents dropped us off at camp, school or daycare. Will they coming back to get me? Will I have to stay here forever? This is called separation anxiety. Our pets can have this fear also.
Our pets don’t ask the same questions but some can become very anxious when left alone. They may pant, pace and even become destructive. These behaviors are not good for our pets, and for the latter, not good for our house.
A child can be told their parents are coming right back. How do we tell our pets that? The answer is that we can’t. However, there are some things to help ease some of the anxiety.
The first step is to be low key and calm. Do not make a big deal about leaving. The more anxious you are will translate into anxiety for your pet. Ideally, you would place your pet in a kennel or cage so they cannot be destructive. I know this does not always work and you have to decide what works best in your situation. Once the pet is in a comfortable place, calmly gather your keys, purse, phone or whatever you need and calmly walk out the door.
Most pets will need more than calmness. We need to distract them. It is no different than a child having things to do at daycare. They are less apt to pay attention to their parents as they leave if the child is busy.
Do this for your pets, too. Since most anxiety is found in dogs (cats at least act like they don’t care), we will focus on techniques for dogs. Give your dog something to do. I really like to see owners use a Kong®. You can fill the middle with peanut butter or even a frozen carrot. This should keep them occupied for a while until it’s time to take a nap. Once you come home, hopefully to a less anxious dog, you find the Kong®, clean it, and put it away. It is a toy that is only given when you leave. There are also toys that reward a dog with food if they move it in a certain way. You just need something to keep them busy for a while.
Many times, I hear people tell me they leave a television playing. I am not a big fan of this technique. How many times have you heard a car salesman yelling about a sale? How many screams, car chases and explosions are found in shows? All of these are meant to get you excited. They can also get your pet excited. The radio or a music station is a better alternative.
Play soothing music for your pets. A study showed cows are more relaxed with classical, country, or soft jazz music. We can take this study, and we can use it for our domestic pets also. We keep coming back to low key and relaxing.
Aromatherapy can also help. There are two parts to this. The first component is using items we can smell. Lavender is a very relaxing aroma. Try using lavender in the house, especially where they spend a lot of time. The second part is pheromone therapy. These are chemical signals that a pet can sense and which can cause an animal to relax. Everything is allright. D.A.P.® is a commercially available pheromone that can be used for this purpose.
The last resort is drug therapy. Some animals do not respond to the above therapies. Just like in humans, pets can have varying degrees of anxiety. Fluoxetine and alprazolam are some of the most commonly used drugs for anxiety. Your veterinarian will talk to you and together you can decide if drug therapy is the correct choice for your pet.
Anxiety comes in several forms. One of the most common forms is separation anxiety. Keeping your pet calm and busy will reduce and hopefully eliminate their anxiety. Discuss your pet’s anxiety with your veterinarian. Together you can reduce the stress your pet feels, and this will decrease the stress you feel.