How to prevent separation anxiety in pets

Pets are a big part of many families and can get attached if you spend a lot of time at home. Learn how to spot and treat separation anxiety in your pet.

Owner carrying dog

During the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis, we are spending more time at home than ever. And our pets are loving it - more attention, cuddles, treats. But what happens when things get back to ‘normal’? There's a risk some pets may suffer from separation anxiety when we return to our old routines. This is particularly common in dogs and young animals like puppies and kittens who will have grown up with you always being around.

Even animals that have previously been comfortable with daily isolation may find it tough. The transition between constant company and too little or no company is a big one. Read on to find out all about separation anxiety in pets and how you can prevent your fluffy friend from suffering.

What is separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is one of the most challenging behaviour disorders for pets (particularly dogs) - and their families - to overcome. Pets who suffer don't just dislike being away from their humans, they can experience full-blown panic attacks when left alone.

How do I know if my pet has separation anxiety?

There are some common behaviours that might suggest your pet is suffering from separation anxiety. These include:

  • Excessive barking/howling/meowing/crying
  • Destroying the home – chewing/digging/ripping things
  • Urinating/defecating inside the house
  • Not eating/eating too fast
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Trying to escape
  • Pacing

Separation anxiety is as disturbing for the owner, as it is the animal and can cause accidents, so having pet insurance is essential to keep your pet safe.

Check out our tips to help reduce the risk of separation anxiety in your pet:

  • Allow your pet to have time alone when you are in the house:

It's important to establish a routine for your pet now so they are prepared when you return to work. Leave your dog in another room or behind a pet gate whilst you are in the house. If you are with your pet constantly, you can begin by doing this for a few minutes at a time and building it up

  • Get out the house and leave them completely alone on occasion

If possible, try standing outside your front door without your dog for a few minutes, or even go into the garden without him. The lack of your constant presence will help your dog to maintain its confidence when it's alone. Again, you can build this time up until your pet is content by itself for an entire day

  • Change your “going away” signals

If your pet does show signs of anxiety, try mixing things up a bit. Use a different door, put your coat on but don’t leave for 15 minutes, leave your keys/purse/shoes in a different location. The goal is to break your pet’s association of these actions with your departure and not let them trigger separation anxiety

  • Give your pet a distraction before you leave

When you leave, give your pet a treat or a toy to play with to distract them. Calming treats can be used as a short-term remedy for separation anxiety. They will also teach your pet that being alone is not scary and create positive associations with your departure

  • Create personal space for your pet

Instead of sleeping with your pet, get them a separate bed where you can also pet them and give calming treats. This will teach your pet to enjoy having their own space and be independent of you, which will help ease their anxiety when you’re away

  • Walk your dog before you leave the house

Start your day by taking your dog for a brisk walk; a tired dog equals a calm dog. Once you return home their focus will be on getting food and water, not where you are. The idea is to leave your dog in quiet, resting mode while you are away

  • No touch, no talk, no eye contact

Don’t make a fuss when you leave for the day or when you return. This way, you are communicating that the time apart is no big deal

  • If your pet does show distress, ask for help

Establishing and maintaining a network of people to help your dog and family navigate going back to work and school will also make the transition easier. Have a neighbour or family member pop by whilst you’re out or hire a dog sitter for the transition back to old routines

  • Leave comfort items around the house

Items that have your scent on them can help your pet relax and remember that you will come back. Hide treats around the house so they can hunt them while you're away

  • Leave on some background noise

Finally, something like a podcast or TV show with human voices can help your pet relax whilst you’re out the house

Does pet insurance cover anxiety and behavioural issues?

If your pet does suffer with separation anxiety, they might display some behavioural issues like mentioned above and these can become quite destructive to your pet and to your home.

Not all pet insurance policies cover behavioural issues or routine veterinary visits but your pet insurance would cover vet bills if your pet needed any medical treatment due to an accident or illness.

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