With Houston’s schools having just opened for the fall term, pet separation anxiety is a real concern. Oak Forest Veterinary Hospital understands that this transition can be especially difficult for our beloved pets. When our dogs show signs of anxiety or depression when left alone, we often develop feelings of guilt and worry. Pet parents can take comfort in the fact that separation anxiety is largely due to a dog’s natural instincts. For canines in the wild, abandonment can be life-threatening. Undomesticated dogs are with their packs continuously and are rarely alone. Isolation means they are vulnerable to predators and could even face starvation without their hunting partners. It’s only natural, then, for dogs to suffer anxiety when they are separated from their human pack.

Dogs act out this anxiety in different ways—from pacing, crying, howling or trying to prevent us from leaving. When left alone, they may take out their frustrations by chewing at themselves, urinating or defecating in the house, or destroying our property. Sadly, this is the second leading cause of owners relinquishing dogs to shelters or euthanizing them.

Boredom, previous abandonment by their owners, and changes in your away-from-home schedule can all contribute to separation anxiety; however, the cause may be as simple as their inherent instinct to remain with the pack. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce this anxiety. You can walk or play with your dog before leaving to help reduce stress. Your dog will sense any anxiety you feel, so act and speak calmly prior to leaving. Leave soothing music or television on, and plenty of chew toys.

You can also take steps to help your dog associate being alone with a good rather than a bad experience. Reserve their favorite foods and toys only for the times they are alone, removing them when you return. Giving treats in a puzzle toy can help with boredom. When you return, enter calmly and avoid physical or eye contact for a few minutes. In severe cases, you may need a behavioral expert to help your dog learn to cope. We are always here to help offer solutions.