Emotions of emptiness no more: Handle separation anxiety in pets like a pro!

Separation anxiety, when your pet has this constant fear of being left alone and abandoned and finds it difficult to spend even a few hours without you. Post COVID lockdowns a lot of pet parents are facing this issue. So, here’s how you can handle this and keep your furry friends happy!

–by Subhadra Cherukuri

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For those of us who have pets with separation anxiety, our lives end up revolving around our pets, making sure they are never left alone for even an instant. Sometimes this leaves us struggling to balance our social life or and even simple things such as doctor’s visits or going out to get groceries becomes a matter of concern.

Separation anxiety has increased after COVID-19. Not only are we seeing ‘lockdown puppies’ suffer from this, but also other pets who were fine pre-COVID seem to have developed the issue as they got used to having their human friends around them all the time.

Separation anxiety is a condition where your pet gets extremely stressed and anxious when left alone or when separated from their pet parents for even short periods of time – often resulting in barking, howling, destruction, self-mutilation, refusal to eat, fever or diarrhea due to stress and other behavioral issues.

Causes of separation anxiety

The most common causes for pets with separation anxiety could be either the below or a combination of some of these reasons –

  • Being separated from the mother and littermates earlier than 60 days
  • Never left alone – being surrounded by humans all the time
  • Being constantly engaged, coddled and ‘talked to’ by humans
  • Sudden changes in environment or place of stay

Loads of love to fix separation anxiety

Pet parents often think that they are doing the best for their pet by being with him 24 X7 and not teaching them to comfortably stay alone for short periods of time. It is imperative that you teach your puppy to stay alone for short period of time, and start this from an early age. This would help him build trust in you, that he’ll believe that you’ll eventually return.

Here are some ways to firstly avoid, and also fix separation anxiety –

  • Prevent the onset

Teach your puppy to be alone for short periods of time, as little as 10-15 minutes at a time from when the pup is 2 months of age.

  • Wonders of walking and adequate exercising

This provides not only an outlet for venting-up energy, but also provides a great deal of mental stimulation. A tired pet will have little energy to be destructive and will also mostly fall asleep when you go away.

  • Merits of mental stimulation

Providing your pet mental stimulation through sniffing games and toys like Kong toys, interactive puzzles etc., as well as basic training will keep him engaged while you are away.

Not making a big deal of entry and exit

Do not fuss over your pet before you leave or after you return, as this will make them even more anxious and excited to see you.

  • Desensitizing separation anxiety one step at a time

Once separation anxiety has already set in, it will require a lot of conditioning in order to remove it. In order to do this, you will need to teach the pet to be alone for short periods of time, and slowly build up his ability to stay alone for longer periods. Keep in mind that you must return to the pet before the signs of anxiety start taking over. Don’t leave your pet alone for extended periods of time, as this will only increase the separation anxiety rather than reduce it. A practical idea would be to use a webcam or CCTV to monitor your pet while you are away.

  • Nuances of new places

When planning to leave your pet in a new place like a friends’ home or a boarding center, make sure you take your pet to visit the place multiple times and get him acquainted with the place and the people. This helps your pet to remember the scent of the place and get acclimatized to it (as dogs live their life through their noses).

  • Perks of professional help for extreme cases

In cases of extreme anxiety, chances are that it might be triggered due to past abuse or even illness. In such cases it is imperative that you discuss the situation with your vet. He might prescribe some medications. You would also need to work with a canine behaviorist along with medications, as medications alone cannot help.

  • Kudos to crate training

Beyond transporting your pet, or keeping your pet contained to avoid destructive behavior, crate training can also help a great deal with separation anxiety. If done correctly, a crate becomes a ‘safe space’ for your pet when he is in an unfamiliar surroundings or feeling anxious. Reach out to a canine behaviorist to help you with crate training for your pet.

(Subhadra Cherukuri is a dog trainer and canine behaviorist based out of Bangalore, and is the founder of Wag-ville – a boarding center and dog resort).

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