Lockdown Dogs: The Rise of Separation Anxiety

As many of us have struggled with our mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic and lockdown months, it’s no great surprise that this is filtering down to our pets. At Brown’s we are seeing a significant rise in stress and anxiety in dogs, in particular separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety is essentially when a pet becomes anxious when away from their primary caregiver. It can also occur when other family members are missing from the group, or when they are left completely alone.

There are particular signs of separation anxiety to look out for. It can be tricky to identify, as if it only occurs when your pet is left alone, you may never know it’s happening! Dogs are more prone to SA if they…

Are very attached to you or a particular member of your household
If they are a “shadow dog” and follow you everywhere
If they become worried or whine when they can’t see you
If they become worried or whine when you prepare to leave the house
If they are overly excited when you return home

With cats you may find they are more prone to SA if…

Again if they are very attached to a particular person
If they are aggressive or fearful towards people they don’t know
If they are anxious in general, this is likely to increase with your absence

If you think your pet might have separation anxiety, or is beginning to show signs, try following our CARE rules below…

C-Calm
Keep a calm and settled environment

Encouraging your pet’s general wellbeing is the first step in making them feel less anxious. Anxiety is a complex issue and therefore must be treated holistically- make sure your pet is healthy, on a good diet, and has plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. While on the journey to combating separation anxiety, remember every pet is different. It is important to be calm, patient and move at their pace.

A-Arrival
Use departure from the house and your arrival back home as training

How you leave your pet and your reaction upon return to them is crucial. The aim is to leave positive, and the best case scenario is that your dog or cat doesn’t care if you leave the house! Observe and identify any triggers of anxiety, for example the jingle of your keys, putting your shoes on, or opening a cupboard to get your coat out.

You can use densensitisation and counterconditioning to get your pet used to these triggers and modify their reaction to a positive one. Timing is key with these techniques so we recommend asking a trainer or behaviourist for help with this.

On your return to the house, be sure to use a calm and soothing voice rather than making them overexcited. You can comfort your pet if they are distressed or if they are overly excited, try a simple command followed by a treat to encourage them to focus.

We often say it, but pets feed off of our behaviour and body language. If we feel guilty for leaving them, we can often feel like we want to coddle them and give extra fuss when we are around. Providing constant companionship doesn’t make up for lost time, and can aggravate the symptoms of SA more.

R-Remedies
Use remedies and rewards to help you

There are several herbal treatments and remedies which can help your pet when they are feeling anxious. While they are not a miracle cure, they can make a significant difference when used in conjunction with training. Every pet is different so don’t get disheartened if you don’t see immediate improvement. Try Dorwest Valerian Compound for a quick boost or Pet Remedy plug in diffusers for gentle support in the house.

Positive reinforcement with treats and rewards is key and will produce results. Never punish your pet for “bad” behaviour they may have displayed when you’re out (e.g. shredding toys/rummaging through bins) as this can add to their anxiety. If your dog is the type to need an outlet for their stress, try a frozen Kong toy or a durable chew like an antler that they cannot swallow. For cats, try a cardboard box fort or leaving a jumper out that smells of you that they can sleep on.

E-Ease the transition
Use baby steps to reassure your pet

However you choose to train and treat your pet’s anxiety, starting out small is key. Initially leave your pet for a short amount of time, returning almost instantly, and then build up the length of absence gradually. If your pet has a negative reaction, return to the previous step and remain there until you can progress again. Have you thought about getting a pet camera? Monitoring behaviour while you aren’t around is infinitely helpful to training and managing separation anxiety.

If you need extra support for your anxious pets, why not have a free consultation with our experts? Come in and see us, give us a call, or say hello on contact@brownsnaturalpetstore.co.uk.