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Yes, your pets can miss you too. A Texas A&M clinical vet's advise on 'separation anxiety'

Labrador dog
Posted at 3:59 PM, Jan 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-13 18:24:04-05

COLLEGE STATION, TX — One day, the memories of virtual learning, and toilet paper hoarding, will feel distant... to us.

But what about our pets?

How will they feel... after all these months of warm cuddle time, and hand-fed treats post COVID-19?

Well, to uncover this 'secret life of pets', we may just need a little translation help from Texas A&M Clinical Veterinarian & Associated Professor, Dr. Lori Teller.

As Dr. Teller explains, separation anxiety for both dogs and cats can form from a change in routine, such as suddenly being left alone for many hours a day. A signal of extreme distress and frustration, Dr. Teller says it should be treated like any other medial ailment.

"Your pet doesn’t want to experience separation anxiety, any more than you, want to experience its consequences." Dr. Teller wrote in Texas A&M Today.

Dr. Teller went on to explain, " First, it’s important to understand that it’s not about you – it’s about your pet. Your dog or cat is not trying to teach you a lesson or get revenge. Animals don’t act out of spite."

If that's the case though, what does it mean when your kitten starts urinating on the kitchen counter, or when the dog sits by the back door and whines, just waiting for you to return?

What should pet owners do first?

The goal is to create a balanced relationship so your pet can build up tolerance being alone.

1) Get your pets checked.
Rule out any possible physical conditions, such as a UTI, if your pet urinates in inappropriate places.

2) Provide plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.
For dogs, this may mean a long run or brisk walk every day. Getting exercise shortly before you leave the house, may put your dog in a more relaxed state while you’re gone from elevated endorphin levels. For cats, this could mean a change of environment by being outdoors in a safe, enclosed area, such as a “catio.

How can I tell if my pet has separation anxiety?

For dogs and cats, symptoms can manifest into excessive pacing, barking or howling, whimpering or self-grooming as you get ready to leave. In some cases it can mean urinating or defecating around the house, often in places where scents linger, such as on bedding or rugs, or destroying household items in your absence. Extreme clinginess or neediness is another symptom.

Unfortunately, separation anxiety won’t go away on its own, and it can be difficult to get rid of entirely.

What should pet owners NOT do?

1) Punishment is never the answer.
"For one thing, your pet won’t connect the punishment with something that happened hours – or even a few minutes – earlier. And punishment may only exacerbate your pet’s anxiety and stress." Dr. Teller wrote.

"Similarly, going to the opposite extreme by praising or giving affection when your pet is suffering anxiety also will make the problem worse." Dr. Teller added.

What should pet owners do to help their pet's separation anxiety symptoms?

As Dr. Teller notes, "The goal is to make your absence seem like no big deal. Making a fuss over your pet when you leave or arrive home only makes matters worse. If you treat it like it’s routine, your pet will learn to do the same."

1) Practice short absences.

Try to figure out when your pet starts to show signs of anxiety and turn that into a low-key activity.

(ex. Get dressed or put on your shoes earlier than usual but stay home instead of leaving right away.
Try starting your car’s engine and then turning it off and walking back inside)

"Leave the house long enough to run an errand or two, then gradually increase the time that you’re away so that being gone for a full day becomes part of the family routine." Dr. Teller shared.

2) Finally, prepare the environment.
"To maintain your bond while you’re gone, place a piece of clothing that you have worn recently in a prominent place, such as on your bed or couch, to comfort your pet." Dr. Teller noted.

Similarly, one can leave the TV or radio on – there are even special programs just for pets – or set up a camera so you can observe and interact with your pet remotely.

At the end of the day, separation anxiety can be a difficult time for both you and your pet.

However, a few simple changes, can make a huge difference... as the dog days, appear unfortunately over.