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About Eric Barchas, D.V.M.

Eric Barchas, DVM is a veterinarian who lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. His emphasis is on small animal medicine, emergency medicine, hospice and wellness. An avid traveler, he has studied lions in Botswana and salmon in southern Chile.

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The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.

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Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Animals Affected

Dogs of any age or breed.

Overview

Separation anxiety is a common and frustrating syndrome in dogs.  Dogs suffering from the syndrome show symptoms of fear or agitation when the owner is absent.  Treatment of separation anxiety is challenging, and may involve medications as well as behavioral modification tactics.

Symptoms

  • Dogs with mild separation anxiety may pant, pace, bark, or act agitated in the absence of the owner.
  • Dogs with more severe separation anxiety may chew on walls, furniture, or carpeting when the owner is away.
  • Complete panic can result from extreme separation anxiety.  Pets may repeatedly throw themselves against doors or windows in an attempt to escape the house. This can lead to severe injury to the pet, or to the pet escaping and getting lost.

Risk Factors and Prevention

  • Nervous, insecure, or high-strung dogs are more likely to suffer separation anxiety.
  • Dogs who are exceptionally attached to their owners may be prone to anxiety in the owner's absence.
  • Some breeds of dogs, such as Australian Shepherds, have higher rates of separation anxiety. Members of predisposed breeds tend to be high-energy or nervous.
  • Separation anxiety in dogs may be triggered by life changes of owners.   Such changes include moving, birth of a child, marriage, or divorce.

Complications

Uncontrolled separation anxiety can lead to property damage or injury to the pet. Because of the frustrating and aggravating nature of the syndrome, it can adversely impact the bond between dog and owner.  Dogs that bark continuously in the owner's absence may annoy neighbors and cause them to complain to landlords or the police.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is based on observed symptoms of anxiety in the owner's absence.

Treatment

Behavioral modification is the most important treatment method. Please refer to the article entitled Behavior Modification for Separation Anxiety for more information.

Medications, including clomipramine (Clomicalm®) and fluoxetine (Prozac®, Reconcile®) may be prescribed for separation anxiety. These medicines are used as antidepressants in people.  In dogs, they are used for their anti-anxiety effects.   Medications alone are unlikely to be effective in treating separation anxiety.  For that reason, they are almost always combined with behavioral modification.

The intervention of qualified dog trainers or specialists in veterinary behavior may be beneficial in severe cases of separation anxiety.

Follow-up

The goal of treatment is to reduce symptoms to a level that is tolerable for both dog and owner.  It is almost impossible to cure separation anxiety completely.

Owners should remember that separation anxiety is one of the most frustrating syndromes in veterinary medicine.  However, with patience, most cases can be adequately controlled.

Copyright © Eric Barchas, DVM All rights reserved.
The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.