Gladly, separation anxiety is a very treatable condition, but it can take a lot of work and dedication. There is no quick fix to relieve anxiety in an animal, but working with your pet to help them find comfort where there once was distress can be an incredibly rewarding experience for you both.
As referenced several times in these articles, we would strongly recommend seeking out the advice of a reputable trainer or animal behaviourist if you’re concerned that your pet is showing signs of separation anxiety. There are also some steps you could start taking now to help identify, address and – hopefully – relieve any anxieties your pet may be feeling.
We’ve saved some of these tips as a handy, downloadable infographic, too. You can view this here.
Monitor for signs of stress. Stress can be difficult to identify already, without the added complication that they may only show these signs when you’re not home. This is where a camera in your house which you can view your pet with can be incredibly useful. Essentially, you’re looking to establish a baseline – how long can you be away for before your pet starts to show signs of stress. With this information, you can start to work on desensitising your pet to the separation.
Set yourself a plan. This is where a trainer or behaviourist will be best to speak to, as after identifying the individual needs of your pet and helping to figure out their tolerance to separation, they will be able to create a plan tailored to you. A plan will help to keep you on track, especially when things seem insurmountable, and give you small goals to work towards – starting with, for example, getting your pet comfortable with you simply walking to the door, working towards you later leaving the house, and eventually heading out for entire evening and beyond.
Take notes. Noticed your dog seemed less stressed when you gave them this toy? Was your cat calmer when they had that for breakfast? When you walked them here in the morning, how’d that affect their energy levels during the day? Be sure to write down any observations as they could be part of a pattern and may prove helpful in the long run. These notes will also be great for reflecting on how far you’ve progressed, especially during any rough patches.
Start making small changes. Now you know how long your pet is comfortable with you being away for, begin getting them used to that length of time with a view to extending it as they get more comfortable. This will likely involve some trial and error – if an extra fifteen minutes was too much, try for ten next time. You may be able to increase the time apart by sizeable margins, but minute-by-minute changes may also be necessary. Giving yourself breathing room, setting realistic goals, and being consistent will be the keys to success at this stage.
Add in some extra enrichment. Ensuring your pet has plenty to keep their mind occupied can serve to distract them from any feelings of anxiety – puzzle feeders, lick mats, KONG toys or other reward-based training tools are worth exploring. Setting them up a ‘safe space’ with their favourite toys and comfortable blankets may also help – but be mindful of using enclosed spaces as this could lead to frustration. Work to encourage and empower their independence and – as mentioned earlier – avoid fighting fear with more fear.
Ask for help and support. Depending on how stressed your pet is throughout this process, you may come across some rough patches. Seeking the support and encouragement from friends and family can help you through this, and they may also be willing and able to help mind your pet if you’re needed elsewhere for longer than the pet is comfortable with. Forums and discussions on social media could be helpful but could also lead you down a spiral of misinformation, so always reference check advice you’re unsure of. There are some other great online resources and books available too – Be Right Back! by Julie Naismith is a popular resource with a lot of trainers.
Speak to your vet. Certain medications may help to relieve anxiety and should certainly be considered and discussed with your vet. Natural, pheromone-based options like Feliway or Adaptil could be worth trying, or even certain essential oils or natural therapies.
Be consistent, but realistic. To draw a comparison, perhaps we could view overcoming separation anxiety like training for and running a marathon. If it’s your first time running that distance, the best person to speak to is someone who’s trained dozens of others to cover that distance – in this case, a reputable trainer or animal behaviourist. Setting yourself a plan will help to keep you on track and give you some realistic goals to work towards. Getting support from your friends and family will help you through any rough patches. But only through consistency, hard work and dedication will you get across that finish line – and the feeling of pride, relief and accomplishment when you do will be incomparable.
We hope that these articles and links have proven helpful in understanding more about separation anxiety, the signs and symptoms to be aware of and what a worried pet owner might be able to do about it. If you have any other, specific questions about separation anxiety, you’re welcome to contact our education team.