Separation Anxiety in Pets

You will eventually get to leave your house.

Your pet may not get it — but we do.

Learn how to make the transition easier for your pet.

You may be headed back to your office soon. Your pet, who has become your loyal and dedicated coworker, has thoroughly enjoyed the stay-at-home companionship. They may not be looking forward to the separation and chances are, your furry coworker will file a complaint with their human resources department.

Here is some helpful information from our veterinarians so you can identify what is normal and what may require a call to our animal hospital.

What is separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a common behavior disorder in dogs and cats who experience emotional distress from the absence of the pet’s person (or persons) to whom they are most attached.

What does separation anxiety look like?

Signs in cats include:

  • Excessive vocalization (crying, moaning, meowing)
  • Not eating or drinking while owner is away
  • Eliminating (often urinations) in inappropriate places
  • Vomiting, food or hair often are contained in the vomit.
  • Excessive self-grooming
  • Destructive behavior
  • Exuberant greetings when the owner returns home

Signs in dogs include:

  • Destructive behavior
  • Excessive drooling
  • Excessive barking or whining
  • Self-harm
  • Inappropriate elimination
  • Restlessness when owner departs
  • Panting, pacing, licking their lips, cowering
  • Reluctance to eat

What should I do if I think my pet has separation anxiety?

Schedule an appointment with one of our clinics. Signs of separation anxiety can also be signs of medical issues so we will also perform a thorough physical exam at your pet’s appointment. During your visit, we can also discuss anti-anxiety options, behavior techniques and tools and other options to help your pet.

Pets with good mental and physical health have long, rich and enjoyable lives, and we are dedicated to their overall well-being and grateful for your trust in their lifelong care.

To help make the transition back to work easier, we have provided some tips:

Preserve the routine as much as possible

Both dogs and cats thrive with a predictable daily routine. Try to preserve the different parts of your pet’s daily routine. You may need to reorder them based on your new schedule, but that’s okay. Every pet’s daily routine should include:

  • Feeding
  • Elimination
  • Play
  • Exploration
  • Sleep/Rest

Stick to the routine as much as possible. If you have been playing with your cat in the morning, try to continue the morning game before heading out the door. Increase the amount of playtime or petting and grooming to help reassure your pet everything is fine.

Engage your pet’s instincts and curiosity

While you were home, did you catch your pet’s instincts in action? Did you observe your pet’s heightened curiosity?

Invest in puzzle feeders: (also called food puzzles) are objects that hold food and must be manipulated by the pet to release the food. Using puzzle feeders and hiding kibbles around the home provides your pet with active engagement and stimulation.

Sensory enrichment: Stimulate your pet’s senses such as sight and sound. Watching birds and listening to nature may do wonders for your pet’s entertainment. Or, depending on how your pet reacts, turn on the radio or TV when you’re gone.

Physical/play enrichment: Providing more toys is one of the most common ways you can enrich your pet’s environment. Make sure the toys are interesting and rotate their use to keep things exciting. Choose safe toys or modify toys so they are safe. If your dog is known to tear apart stuffed toys with squeakers or plastic body parts (like eyes), remove those parts before giving them to your dog.

Social enrichment: Continue to walk your dog or cat on a leash in the neighborhood- the fresh air is good.

Establish a “go-to space” in your home for your pet.

Often called a “refuge” in the cat world, choose an area in your home that is less traveled or out of the way where your pet has all of their necessities such as food, water, toys and an article of clothing with your scent on it. It is their place to go when they need a break, want to feel secure and comfortable or need some quiet time.

Acclimate your pet to your “leaving cues.”

What do you do when you get ready to leave the house? Grab your keys? Open the garage door? Those “leaving cues” may become triggers for your pet’s stress. Help your pet get accustomed to the sounds by repeating actions over and over — but not leaving. Pack your bag the night before, put it in the car and come back in the house. Open the garage door and close it, but don’t leave. Carry your keys around the house and shake them, but don’t go anywhere. During this learning time, when you have to leave, put your keys into a pocket or bag so your pet does not hear the sound as you leave. Over time, your pet will no longer associate those sounds and actions with your departure and the “leaving cues” (that may cause your pet to start to worry) will be nonexistent.

Additional Tools for You