SEPARATION ANXIETY

How can you know if your dog suffers from Separation Anxiety, what are the signs?  Veterinary Behavior Specialist, Dr.John Ciribassi offers these clues to the diagnosis:

 

1.  Destructive behavior is commonly directed towards exits from the home, such as windows or doorways. This may also mean attempts to escape from confined areas such as crates or rooms. You may also see destruction directed towards personal items such as remote control units, pillows, clothing, etc. 

2.  Vocalization typically presents as a monotonous sound (a single tone in which the bark does not change much in pitch), persistent howling, or barking. 

3. 
Elimination: you can see stool and/or urine accidents when your dog is left alone or thinks she is alone, even though your dog is normally well housebroken. The material is often in multiple locations because the dog is pacing due to anxiety and thus goes in the areas where she is pacing. The stool can often be abnormal and have a slimy, mucus look indicating your dog is also suffering from stress colitis.

4.  Hypersalivation or drooling
: severe anxiety results in increased drooling, so you may see puddles of thick saliva in the crate or near an exit where the dog may be scratching to get out. You also may see heightened thirst when you return home as the drooling and panting may cause some dehydration.  Other physiologic symptoms of intense fear may be present like dilated pupils, vomiting, severe trembling, decreased appetite, and elevated heart rate.

To confirm the diagnosis, these behaviors ONLY happen when your dog is left alone
.  Sometimes leaving a video camera on when your away can help give more clues. It is important to realize that destructive behavior can occur in dogs due to boredom and lack of exercise, it is easy to confuse this with separation anxiety. 

Separation Anxiety Behaviors usually happen immediately upon leaving. Boredom-related behaviors usually occur an hour or more after you leave the house. If you come home after only 30 minutes and find there is no problem, your dog probably does not have separation anxiety. He may just be bored! To help know the difference, and to help your veterinarian to confirm a diagnosis, take video with a cell phone or computer camera of what your dog does when you leave the house.

Adolescents and young dogs have boundless energy, and an intense but normal need to chew and explore things with their mouths.  If dogs are not given appropriate outlets for these behaviors, they may be misdiagnosed with separation anxiety. 
Dogs need regular exercise and environmental stimulation.  To prevent boredom and lack of exercise behavior be sure to exercise your dog daily.  A minimum of 30 minutes of brisk leash walking should be included in the lifestyles of all healthy dogs, young or large breed dogs likely require much more.  Remember a tired dog is a good dog!!

APDT Webinar on Separation Anxiety  Click here to download a thorough webinar overview and discussion of treatment strategies for Separation Anxiety by Board Certified Veterinary Behavior Specialist, Dr. Melissa Bain.

5 Easy Steps to Teach Your Dog to be Home Alone not all dogs have separation anxiety, sometimes teaching your dog how to happily be home alone can minimize problems.  This link to Dog Star Daily tells you how to accomplish that

Dogs with full blown separation anxiety are not bored, they are terrified!  Fortunately, true Separation Anxiety is rare, and before we can begin to treat the problem, our first job is to really figure out what is really wrong with the dog, and differentiate separation anxiety from other behavioral problems.

  


Is this boredom or Separation Anxiety?

Separation Anxiety can be a very serious Behavior Disorder that can lead a pet to extreme self trauma and household destruction.  It can be a heartbreaking condition and so severe that it can even lead to the relinquishment of a beloved pet, or euthanasia.  Dogs with separation anxiety are undergoing extreme distress and should never be punished!  Punishment will only increase the anxiety of the pet and lead to a worsening of symptoms.

Because of the serious nature of this disorder, we often recommend referral to a Board Certified Veterinary Behavior Specialist.  A Veterinary Behavior Specialist can offer your dog the best help and treatment.  Deer Run Animal Hospital can offer some help for mild to moderate cases, and clients are encouraged to start by making a consult appointment with us as the first step.  If we determine your pet is showing symptoms of severe separation anxiety we may recommend a referral to a behavior specialist. We will outline some of the treatment options below.  In severe cases, a Veterinary Behavior Specialist, and not a general veterinary practitioner or trainer, is best equipped to select the best treatment modalities and monitor progress.  You would not expect your own family doctor or your gym trainer to treat any other family member with a severe psychiatric disorder. 

Dogs suffering from severe separation anxiety cannot be easily cured but there is hope and they can improve!  Behavior modification takes time and patience. Dogs with separation anxiety have extremely sensitive natures, and likely some of this is genetic, and difficult if not impossible to change completely. Their susceptibility to anguish upon being separated from their owners may not change.  When all treatment modalities are properly utilized there is hope for improvement but a permanent cure may not be attained.  Our goal is to improve the situation to a livable degree for both dog and owner.  It is important to remember that even if treatment results are good, the dog may remain tempermentaly brittle and susceptible to relapse.

We have a great collection of resources and handouts that describe and explain behavior modification and treatment options. 

Click for  Handouts & Resources On Separation Anxiety 

Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist at Tufts University, and founder of its Behavior Clinic, offers some guidelines for counter conditioning for separation anxiety. Other Behavior Specialists may have slightly different protocols and may focus more on desensitization techniques (Please see the additional handouts we provide for other examples).  Dr Dodman's treatment is metered out into five phases:

  1. What owners need to do as they prepare to leave
  2. How they should set up the environment while away
  3. How they greet the dog on their return
  4. How they interact with the dog while they are with it.
  5. For speedier and often better results, prescribing mood-stabilizing drug medications.

Step One:  Leaving the Dog

On leaving, Dr. Dodman suggests

  • feeding half the dog's daily food ration at the precise time of departure
  • Make sure the departure is a happy but low key event
  • Leave numerous ancillary treats such as peanut butter or spray cheese-stuffed Kongs and other stuffable toys filled with treats.  See our CHEW TOYS & FOOD TOYS web page for suggestions or watch this Kong Stuff'N An Instructional Video 

We must however realize that dogs with separation anxiety may be too distressed to eat.  It may well be that the first day this is tried, the food may go untouched.  Be Patient! Upon return, the owner should pick up all food and toys first thing, including the morning meal if it is uneaten.  The dog is then fed the other half of the ration that evening.  Because the dog is now effectively on half rations, the dow will be hungrier the next day and more inclined to eat when the owner departs. The process of picking up the uneaten food may have to continue for several days be the dog's appetite is strong enough for the dog's desire to eat overcomes its anxiety.

Step Two:  Enriching the Environment

  • In addition to food and toys, if possible, get the dog out of the dog crate and into a dog-proofed area that is more comfortable.  If the dog has been trained to feel comfort and safety in his crate, the crate can stay with the door open and the dog can still choose to use it.
  • Try to provide a view of the outside world so the dog can see bird feeders or squirrel feeders outside for entertainment.
  • Leave the TV on or play melodic sounding soothing music like Bach or Beethoven
  • Or consider the Music of .Through a Dog's Ear  This music has been clinically tested on more than 150 dogs and have been shown to decrease anxiety. These CDs were developed by Dr. Susan Wagner,a board-certified veterinary neurologist, and Joshua Leeds a sound researcher, music producer, and one of few published authorities in the field of psychoacoustics. It is recommended that this calming CD music is first played when the dog is not exhibiting anxiety. This allows the dog to associate the calming music with a positive state of being. After doing this at least four times, proceed to using it when the dog is exhibiting anxiety. If the music doesn't keep the dog calm at first, stop and use it several more times while not exhibiting anxiety. This music is psychoacoustically designed to calm dogs.  The CDs can be ordered directly from the website for Through a Dog's Ear.
  • Use Pheromone Therapy in the environment with Adaptil (DAP) For Dogs.   Adaptil with Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) therapy communicates a sense of security and well being using a pheromone.  The DAP pheromone is a synthesized copy of the pheromone released from the mammary glands of a mother dog when she nurses her puppies.  This pheromone helps dogs feel safe and secure. Along with behavior modification techniques and medications, DAP can help manage the fear reactions of dogs left alone and can help minimize symptoms of excessive vocalization, destructive behavior, and house soiling. For more information click the link on  Adaptil (DAP) For Dogs. This product is available at Deer Run Animal Hospital.

Step Three:  Greeting Upon Return

  • Pick up all toys, treats, and food.
  • Pay the dog little or no attention until it has settled down
  • Once the dog is settled and relaxed is the time to acknowledge the dog's presence through petting and praise.

Step Four:  Interactions with the dog

  • At least for part of the day when the owner is home with the dog, there should be some physical and psychological distance between owner and dog for at least 30 minutes.
  • Select periods when the dog is not permitted to follow the owner around form place to place, but instead the dog is required to be some distance from the owner while being given something entertaining to do.  Again see our CHEW TOYS & FOOD TOYS web page for suggestions. 
  • To enforce this separation, or "distancing" it may be necessary to employ physical restraint in the form of a crate, baby gate, or tether.
  • The dog should be given periods of aerobics exercise, ideally for at least 20-30 minutes at least twice daily.  Brisk leash walks are a great method and can keep the dog interested in its environment, expose it to new sights and sounds, and give it an outlet for its energy.  A tired dog, is a good dog!
  • In addition, to encourage independence in a separation anxiety dog, the dog should not sleep on the bed with the owner.  If the dog has been sleeping with the owner the dog should have a dog bed on the floor of the bedroom. Over time the dog bed is moved farther from the bed until is as far away from the bed as possible in the same room.

Step Five:  Mood-Stabilizing medications

Click here for a handout with more information on using medications for behavioral disorders

  • There are some new nutraceutical or Herbal supplements that might benefit mild cases of separation anxiety.  If the anxiety is not too severe, supplements can be tried along with behavior and environmental modification, before moving on to prescription drugs. 

Zylkene and Anxitane are two examples of anti-anxiety supplements that we can dispense for mild cases or in combination with other drugs

 

Zylkene   is a supplement which contains a natural product, derived from casein, a protein in milk. It is a molecule well known to promote the relaxation of newborns after breastfeeding. Launched in October 2013, Zylkene has become a familiar product for veterinary behaviorists and pet owners for use in helping pets cope when facing unusual and unpredictable situations or before occasions such as a change in their normal environment.  It can work rapidly and is easy to administer mixed in food.

 

Anxitane is supplement that a recently published veterinary clinical research study showed provides anti-anxiety benefits. The supplement  contains the amino acid L-Theanine or Suntheanine.  This amino acid is also found in green tea. Anxitane  will not produce instant results. In most cases it takes about a month on Anxitane to see an improvement in anxious behavior, although occasionally benefit may be seen as early as a few days. 

 

These supplements are available at Deer Run Animal Hospital.  Please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to determine if they are appropriate for your dog.

  • There are two FDA-Approved Drug Treatments available.  Both treatment classes are designed to increase brain serotonin and thus stabilize mood.  These drugs have proven benefits in the treatment of separation anxiety but may have some side effects and periodic blood monitoring for side effects is needed while taking them. Although these drugs do come in generic forms, it is recommended to at least start treatment using the trade name product.  These drugs usually take 2-4 weeks to start to be effective.  In some cases a short acting benzodiazepine can be temporarily given 1-2 hrs before departures may be started until these drugs become effective.  

1.  Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors or SSRIs (such as Fluoxetine or Reconcile)

2Tricyclic Antidepressants or TCAs (such as Clomipramine or Clomicalm)

In addition to Dr. Dodman's treatment protocols, many veterinary behaviorists also recommend desensitizing to departure cues or mixing up departure cues.  Dogs readily learn the cues that indicate that the owner will be leaving the house soon. It is helpful to uncouple these cues from the actual leaving. At random times, the owner can go through some of the rituals of leaving: put on cologne, shower, wear work clothes, taking the car keys, even going outside and locking the door - but then coming in again. This helps the dog to remain relaxed when he hears or sees these cues at the times when the owner is actually leaving. It is important to repeat these cues so many times daily that they become meaningless to the dog.

Another interesting Ancillary Therapy that can be added to the treatment program is the use of calming body wraps.  Below we are providing information on two such wraps.


The Anxiety Wrap  is made of a stretchable fabric the animal wears.  It uses a technique called Maintained Pressure.  Maintained Pressure is a technique also used with Autistic children, and in neuro-rehabilitation to modify the body's sensory receptors and change the nervous system back to a more normal state. There is currently a scientific study being done on the benefits of the Anxiety Wrap at Tufts University Veterinary Behavior Department. 

 

 

 

The Thundershirt for Separation Anxiety  uses the covering theory and also adds gentle pressure over the dog's body with a snug Velcro closure and stretchy fabric.  It is hypothesized that this body pressure "hugs" the dog, giving relief to anxiety.  It is not fully understood how all these body coverings work, but many dogs have shown improvement with anxiety related disorders such as separation anxiety and noise phobia.  Usually the response to these coverings takes some time to develop and is not instantaneous.  At least 3 wearings, and following the manufactures instructions carefully are important for success.  Especially when combined with the other anxiety treatment modalities, body coverings can often help decrease the stress.

The Thundershirt-How it Works!  Thundershirts are available for sale at Deer Run Animal Hospital

Handouts & Resources On Separation Anxiety  

The information on this website is meant to give a brief overview of behavior modification and treatment options.  It does not meant to replace an office consult with your veterinarian and their recommendation for a referral to a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist.  Separation Anxiety is a very serious disorder, treatment by a specialist to confirm the diagnosis, and to tailor the most effective treatment plan is always recommended.

 

Specialty Behavioral Services for referral in our region are listed below:


Could a Veterinary Behaviorist Help Your Dog? Veterinary behaviorists are fully trained veterinarians who complete an additional specialized program in behavioral medicine. They then apply to be board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Behavior (ACVB). There less than 50 such certified veterinary behaviorists in the United States today. Read this article to learn more. We are very fortunate to have access to several Veterinary Behaviorists in our region.

Sara Bennett, DVM, Diplomate American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
Dr. Bennet completed her residency in Behavior Medicine at Purdue University
Dr. Bennet now sees patients at VCA Specialty Hospital in Berwyn, IL.

Chicagoland Veterinary Behavior Consultants   This it the link to board certified veterinary behaviorist, Dr. John Cirabassi  He is available for referral consults at the Veterinary Specialty Center in Buffalo Grove, IL and also sees behavior patients in Elmhurst, IL.


Purdue Veterinary School Behavior Department  This is a link to the Behavior Department at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine in West Lafayette, IN. 

Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine--Behavior Service  The University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine now has a location in Chicago at 2242 West Harrison Street, Suite 101, Chicago, Illinois 60612.  They now are offering a Veterinary Behavior Service and are accepting behavior referrals.  Learn more by reading their Behavior Services Brochure.