How can I tell if my dog has separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a canine behavioral problem that has become better understood in recent years. Dogs suffering from separation anxiety are overly attached to their human family members. These dogs shadow owners when they’re home, feel anxious when they prepare to leave, and become distraught when left by themselves.

When alone, the dogs bark, howl, urinate, destroy household furnishings, and in many cases attempt to break through the physical barriers—including doors and windows—that separate them from their beloved humans. Most refuse to eat until their people return, no matter how long that may be.

Not every dog who exhibits the symptoms of separation anxiety actually suffers from the disorder. Many of the symptoms can be signs of other problems. For example, a dog who urinates in the house when left alone may have a bladder infection and be unable to wait until someone arrives to let him out, and a dog who destroys furnishings simply may be bored.

Any dog showing signs of separation anxiety should be thoroughly examined by a veterinarian. The veterinarian should perform laboratory tests, including a complete blood count, serum biochemistry profile, and urinalysis to rule out any illness.

Once the dog is pronounced healthy, and the veterinarian has determined that the behavioral symptoms are consistent with separation anxiety, a treatment program can be prescribed. Owners of dogs with separation anxiety often unwittingly con-tribute to their dogs’ problem by sympathizing with the dogs’ distress.

They may say tearful good-byes to their canine friends before departing aor join them in a joyous reunion dance when they return; both rituals tell dogs that being apart is an awful event. But departing and returning non-chalantly, perhaps even ignoring a dog for twenty minutes prior to leaving and after returning, tells him that being separated is a normal event in a healthy human-dog relationship.

You can foster your dog’s inde-pendence, even when you are together. Encourage him to take a nap or play with a toy in another room; don’t reward him with attention or treats when he follows you from room to room. If your dog is severely affected, implement a desensitization pro-gram. Leave your dog alone for about fifteen minutes, and then gradually increase the length of time, departing and returning in a dispassionate way.

Give your dog a special food treat that takes some time to eat when you leave to distract him from his distress. Several antianxiety medications can diminish separation anxiety, but medication alone will not cure it without also using the training methods discussed. The drug clomipramine (Clomicalm) is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of canine 1 separation anxiety and is available by prescription from your veterinarian.