Separation anxiety in dogs

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Separation anxiety in dogs describes a condition in which a dog exhibits distress and behavior problems when separated from its handler. Separation anxiety typically manifests within minutes of departure of the handler.[1] It is not fully understood why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety and others do not.[2] The behavior may be secondary to an underlying medical condition.[3] With chronic stress, impairments to physiological health can manifest. Increased stress in the dog alters hormone levels, thus decreasing natural immunity to various health problems.[4] A visit to the veterinarian is always recommended if a dog's behavior changes suddenly.

Signs and symptoms[edit]

Dogs suffering from separation anxiety typically exhibit these behaviors:

  • Following handler excessively
  • Pacing
  • Excessive salivating
  • Excessive shaking (usually seen in smaller breeds like the Chihuahua and Yorkshire Terrier)
  • Vomiting
  • Destructive chewing
  • Barking, howling, whining
  • Urination, defecation in the house
  • Coprophagia[5]
  • Self harm
  • Digging and scratching at doors or windows in an attempt to reunite with the handler[6]

Cause[edit]

The cause of dog separation anxiety is unknown, but may be triggered by:

  • a traumatic event[citation needed]
  • a change in routine[6]
  • major life change (e.g., new home, new baby, death of a family member, abandonment to a shelter[5])
  • extreme attachment or dependency on the owner[7]

Treatment[edit]

Dogs suffering from separation anxiety are often "owner addicts." Setting boundaries can boost a dog's confidence when away from the owner.[8]

Various techniques can help dogs cope with separation anxiety:

  • Leaving and returning home quietly[9]
  • Providing plenty of exercise, play, and fun[10]
  • Practicing the routine of leaving the house to desensitize the dog
  • Feeding the dog before departure
  • Leaving the radio/TV on
  • Medicating the dog

Drug therapy[edit]

Dogs can be treated with psychotropic drugs used to treat similar psychological disorders displayed in humans in order to mitigate the behavior related to these disorders, such as anti-depressants or anti-anxiety drugs.These connections between human and animal psychopharmacology can help to explain how similar neurobiology can be among different species.[11]Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs, or tricyclic anti-depressants are used to treat anxious and depressive behavior in animals. One study tracked the effectiveness of clomipramine, a tricyclic anti-depressant, in reducing compulsive behaviors through administration of a tricyclic anti-depressant in dogs. Behaviors displayed by these dogs include but are not limited to tail-chasing, shadow-chasing, circling and chewing. The study found that after one month of daily administration of the tricyclic anti-depressant clomipramine, these compulsive behaviors decreased or disappeared in 16 out of 24 dogs. Slight to moderate behavior mitigation was shown in 5 dogs. These results suggest that clomipramine can be beneficial to canines displaying anxiety behaviors.[12]

Anxiety disorders can also be treated with dog appeasing pheromones similar to those given off by their mothers.[13] The pheromone-containing products are sold as collars and sprays under the brand name Adaptil.[13]

Anti-depressant treatment[edit]

Fluoxetine, an SSRI used by humans under the brand name Prozac, is prescribed to dogs under the brand name Reconcile. A study found that dogs who were being simultaneously treated with Reconcile while undergoing a type of behavior therapy known as behavioral modulation were more successful at mitigating behaviors related to separation anxiety when compared to the control group of dogs receiving only a placebo with behavior modulation treatment. After 8 weeks of treatment, 72% of the dogs given fluoxetine displayed fewer adverse behaviors (e.g., excessive salivation, inappropriate urination/defecation) while only 50% of the control group mitigated these behaviors.[14]

In another study conducted in 2015, dogs expressing symptoms of separation anxiety were given fluoxetine tablets and a standard behavior modification plan for two months.[15] Owner interviews, spatial cognitive bias tests, questionnaires and relations between cognitive bias and drug treatment were all taken into consideration. Results showed that the clinical treatment of fluoxetine seemed to produce a shift in cognitive bias in the canine subjects, emphasizing that pharmacological therapy not only can positively affect behavior, but also an animal's psychological state.

The most common adverse effects were decreased appetite, experienced by 23% of the dogs in the study, and lethargy, experienced by 39% of the dogs in the study. Some canines actually experienced worsening anxiety and aggressive behavior.[16]

In a study using the anti-depressant clomipramine, nine dogs underwent withdrawal after discontinuing treatment. Five of those dogs were successful in overcoming the withdrawal, while four dogs relapsed. Although the study's sample sizes were relatively small, it illuminated one of the many variables regarding psychoactive drug withdrawal.[17]

Benzodiazepine treatment[edit]

Benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam, are anxiolytic medications. Benzodiazepines are beneficial in the treatment of stimuli-evoking anxiety, or phobias. One study on storm phobias found that 30 out of the 32 canines involved in the study had reductions in anxious behaviors after being treated with alprazolam. However, this study found that the best way to benefit from benzodiazepine treatment is when it is being used in conjunction with behavior modulation treatment and an anti-depressant.[18]

The study found that canines can develop dependence to these types of medications and experience a withdrawal process similar to one experienced by humans. For example, their seizure threshold is lowered and anxiety relapse can occur after stopping benzodiazepine treatment.[19] Similarly to treatment of human anxiety disorders, benzodiazepines are a last resort treatment, due to their addiction potential.[20] Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs, or tricyclic anti-depressants are used to treat anxious and depressive behavior in animals. One study tracked the effectiveness of clomipramine, a tricyclic anti-depressant, in reducing compulsive behaviors through administration of a tricyclic anti-depressant in dogs. Behaviors displayed by these dogs include but are not limited to tail-chasing, shadow-chasing, circling and chewing. The study found that after one month of daily administration of the tricyclic anti-depressant clomipramine, these compulsive behaviors decreased or disappeared in 16 out of 24 dogs. Slight to moderate behavior mitigation was shown in 5 dogs. These results suggest that clomipramine can be beneficial to canines displaying anxiety behaviors.[12]

Imepitoin, also known by its brand name Pexion, is a recently developed drug for treating primarily canine epilepsy. Imepitoin is a low-affinity agonist at the benzodiazepine site of the GABAA receptor, meaning it is able to loosely attach itself to the GABA receptor and mimic GABA. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that is used to counteract glutamate, the excitatory neurotransmitter responsible for eliciting anxious behaviors if levels are excessive, causing long-term anxiety disorders.[21] Because imepitoin is known to have anti-convulsant effects on laboratory rats and is already an anti-epilepsy drug treatment, researchers are curious as to whether or not it could decrease a canine's levels of separation anxiety, as one symptom of separation anxiety in dogs is excessive shaking, primarily in smaller breeds.

One study conducted in 2016 did not test its effects on separation anxiety specifically, but rather investigated its abilities to reduce fear and anxiety-related behaviors. The study was conducted via an online survey completed by the canine participants' owners, including data on the number of how monthly seizures the dogs experienced.[22] Results showed a significant reduction of average seizures per month, but no significant differences in behavior regarding the five anxiety-related measures examined (dog-directed fear, stranger-directed fear, non-social fear, pain sensitivity and separation-related behavior), concluding that imepitoin did not definitively affect anxiety-related behavior in dogs. However, it was noted by researchers conducting the study that the participants' anxiety levels could not have been high enough in the beginning of the study for the dogs to show a significant reduction in anxiety-related behavior.

Another research study in June 2017 tested imepitoin's abilities to reduce anxiety-related behaviors in canines,[23] but unlike the previous study, researchers evaluated the dogs personally for canine temperament using a Positive and Negative Activation Scale (PANAS), rather than having the participants' owners evaluate the dogs through an online survey. Average weekly reaction (AWR) scores in response to anxiety-inducing stimuli and owners' diary entries were also taken into account. Results displayed significantly lower AWR scores for anxiety alongside a reduction in negative activation on the PANAS, concluding that imepitoin is a drug-therapy option to positively reduce canines' anxiety-related behaviors. However, imepitoin is not being prescribed to treat separation anxiety in canines.

Nelumbinis Semen treatment[edit]

One cause of separation anxiety in canines is chronic stress. A study in 2012 tested Nelumbinis Semen, the seeds of the herb Nelumbo nucifera, and its anti-depressant effects on animals experiencing stress.[24] This study did not test directly on canines, but rather rats, and aimed to apply the principles found by the study to other animals like dogs. The study, however, did test oral toxicity specifically on canines. After testing different dosage amounts of the Nelumbinis Semen, scientists determined that 400 mg per the animal's weight in kilograms was the ideal amount to lower immobility when the animal was faced with a stressful situation. In addition, Nelumbinis Semen was not found to be toxic when administered to dogs. The study supports the possibility that alternative and "natural" ingredients may be used as a substitute for drug-based therapy.

Other scientific findings[edit]

A study conducted in 2016 used primary metabolite profiling through a combination of liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify possible biomarkers for anxiety-related behavior.[25] Primary metabolites are directly involved in more "natural" processes, such as reproduction and development,[26] so abnormal differences could result in differences of mental development. Results identified changes in thirteen metabolites between dogs who had separation anxiety and those who did not; these changes included differences in hypoxanthine, indoxysulfate and phospholipids, all which control oxidative stress, tryptophan levels, and lipid metabolisms. Researchers concluded that biomarkers like primary metabolites play a prominent role in canine anxiety.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Guide to Separation Anxiety in Dogs". PawLeaks (2020).
  2. ^ of the US, Humane Society. "Separation Anxiety". Retrieved 9 August 2012.
  3. ^ MD, Pet. "Separation Anxiety in Dogs". Retrieved 9 August 2012.
  4. ^ Dreschel, Nancy (2010). "The effects of fear and anxiety on health and lifespan in pet dogs". Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 125 (3): 157–162. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2010.04.003.
  5. ^ a b ASPCA. "Common Dog Behavior Issues". ASPCA. Retrieved November 30, 2016.
  6. ^ a b "Separation Anxiety : The Humane Society of the United States". Retrieved 2012-03-08.
  7. ^ Takeuchi, Yukari (2000). "Evaluation of treatments for separation anxiety in dogs". Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 217 (3): 342–345. doi:10.2460/javma.2000.217.342.
  8. ^ Kilcommons, Brian (2007-04-28). "How to Cure Your Dog's Separation Anxiety". Retrieved 9 August 2012.
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  15. ^ Karagiannis, Christos I.; Burman, Oliver HP; Mills, Daniel S. (2015-12-01). "Dogs with separation-related problems show a "less pessimistic" cognitive bias during treatment with fluoxetine (Reconcile™) and a behaviour modification plan". BMC Veterinary Research. 11 (1): 80. doi:10.1186/s12917-015-0373-1. ISSN 1746-6148. PMC 4393593. PMID 25889323.
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  24. ^ Chung, Hwan-Suck; Lee, Hye Jeong; Shim, Insop; Bae, Hyunsu (2012-05-28). "Assessment of anti-depressant effect of nelumbinis semen on rats under chronic mild stress and its subchronic oral toxicity in rats and beagle dogs". BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 12: 68. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-12-68. ISSN 1472-6882. PMC 3407502. PMID 22640371.
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