Separation Anxiety

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Separation Anxiety

What is separation anxiety in dogs?

Separation anxiety is a disease in which affected dogs may exhibit certain problematic behaviours when left alone. Dogs are social animals, and naturally become bonded to family members in their household. When separated from these people, such as when the owner leaves for work or to run an errand, certain dogs may experience distress and engage in unacceptable behaviours as a result of the anxiety of this separation.

What are the signs of separation anxiety in dogs?

The more common behaviours associated with separation anxiety include:

  • Destruction of household items by chewing or tearing
  • Barking, howling and/or whining
  • Defecating or urinating in the house while alone, particularly in "odd" places
  • Scratching or digging
  • Heavy drooling, vomiting, hyperventilating or rapid heart rate
  • Pacing or circling
  • Attempting to escape (signs of damage occur around doors or windows)

These negative behaviours typically occur within 10 to 30 minutes after the owner leaves the house, and bouts of rest may alternate with barking and destructive behaviour every 40 to 60 minutes.1,3,4

If my dog exhibits some of these signs, what should I do?

If your dog is showing any signs of separation anxiety, ensure your dog is examined by your veterinarian to rule out other possible reasons for the behaviours, such as a medical condition. Once a physical examination and any necessary laboratory work have ruled out a medical cause, your veterinarian will ask you questions about your dog’s behavioural history4:

  • How does your dog respond when you are coming and going?
  • Do the inappropriate behaviours (e.g., destruction of household items, barking/whining, soiling or urinating in the house) occur only when you are away or also when you are at home?
  • When did the behaviour problems begin? What were the circumstances?
  • How do you interact with your dog on a daily basis (e.g., giving attention, playing, going for walks)?

Videotapes or audiotapes recorded when your dog is home alone can be very helpful in confirming the diagnosis of separation anxiety. 4

I love my dog and provide significant care and attention as much as possible.  Did something I do cause this or is he just being spiteful?

It is not something that you did. No one has a definitive answer about the cause of separation anxiety, which can develop at any age in either sex4 and has been diagnosed in all breeds. Potential triggers of separation anxiety include1-5:

  • Inherited predisposition
  • Lack of socialization at a very young age
  • Time spent at an animal shelter
  • Excessive attachment to the owner
  • Changes in the owner's work schedule or daily routine
  • Moving to a different residence
  • Alteration of the family structure through birth or death
  • New owner or family
  • Aging and decline of cognition

Your dog is not bad or spiteful, but is suffering from a readily treatable condition.

Can separation anxiety be managed?

Yes, there are steps that you can take to help your dog become more independent. When it is clear that the behaviours are not caused by a physical problem, your veterinarian will develop a comprehensive treatment plan for separation anxiety that may involve medication, behaviour modification training and owner commitment. 



1. Parthasarathy V, Crowell-Davis SL. Relationship between attachment to owners and separation anxiety in pet dogs (Canis lupus familiaris). J Vet Behav. 2006;1:109-120.
2. Schwartz S. Separation anxiety syndrome in dogs and cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2003;22(11):1526-1532.
3. Blackwell E, Casey RA, Bradshaw WS. Controlled trial of behavioural therapy for separation-related disorders in dogs. Vet Rec. 2006;158:51-554.
4. Horwitz DF. Separation anxiety in dogs. NAVC Clinician's Brief. 2008;11:61-62.
5. Takeuchi Y, Houpt KA, Scarlett JM. Evaluation of treatments for separation anxiety in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2000;17(3):342-345.




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