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 30 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 stressors in dog’s lives, impairments can occur on their physiological health. Increased stress in the animal alters their hormone levels and thus decreases the animals immunity to various health problems.[4] A visit to the veterinarian is always recommended if a dog's behavior changes suddenly.

Typical behaviors[edit]

Dogs suffering from separation anxiety typically exhibit these behaviors:

  • Following handler excessively
  • Pacing
  • Excessive salivating
  • Excessive shaking (usually seen in smaller breeds; Chihuahua, 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]


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

  • a traumatic event
  • a change in routine [6]
  • major life change (e.g., new home, new baby, death of a family member, abandonment to a shelter [7])
  • an underlying medical condition[1]
  • extreme attachment or dependency on the owner[8]


Dogs suffering from separation anxiety are often "owner addicts". Setting boundaries will boost a dog's confidence and prepare it to be on its own.[9]

Various techniques have been suggested for helping dogs cope with separation anxiety:

  • Leaving and returning home quietly, without fuss[10]
  • Providing plenty of exercise, play, and fun[11]
  • Practicing leaving to adjust the dog to your departure
  • Feeding the dog before you leave
  • Leaving the radio/TV on
  • Medicating the dog

As of 2012, a San Diego cable channel is offering DOGTV, a cable-based television channel especially for dogs whose owners are away. The programming, created with the help of dog behavior specialists, is color-adjusted to appeal to dogs, and features 3–6 minute segments designed to relax, to stimulate, and to expose the dog to scenes of everyday life such as doorbells or riding in a vehicle. The channel's proponents have indicated positive reviews from a humane society shelter in Escondido, California.[12] The "doggie resort" hosts of the opening party for Dog TV in San Diego reported that some of their dogs seem to enjoy watching the animated series SpongeBob SquarePants. The show's creators anticipate that dogs will watch Dog TV intermittently, throughout the day, rather than remaining glued to the set.[13][14][15]

Another technology based solution for calming separation anxious dogs is a software named Digital Dogsitter.[16] The user first records his or her voice to the software. When the dog is alone, the software listens to the dog and analyzes the incoming audio through the computer's microphone. Whenever the dog barks or howls, software plays the owner's voice to the dog, and the dog becomes calm.


Dogs can also be treated with psychotropic drugs, such as anti-depressants or anti-anxiety drugs. A recent trend in treatment is the use of psychotropic drugs in animals to treat similar psychological disorders to those displayed in humans and mitigate the behavior related to these disorders. These connections between human and animal psychopharmacology can help to explain how similar neurobiology can be among different species.[17]

Similar to humans, 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.[18]

Fluoxetine, an SSRI used by humans under the brand name Prozac, is now prescribed to dogs under the brand name Reconcile. Another study found that dogs who were being treated with both Reconcile and Behavioral Modulation Treatment compared to dogs receiving a placebo and behavioral therapy called Behavior Modulation Treatment, were much more successful at mitigating behaviors related to separation anxiety. 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 placebo group had mitigated these behaviors.[19]

Anxiety disorders can also be treated with dog-appeasing pheromones similar to those given off by their mothers.[20] The pheromone containing products are sold in collars and sprays under the brand name Adaptil.[20]

Benzodiazepine treatment[edit]

Benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam, are anxiolytic medications. Benzodiazepines have also shown to be 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 anxiety behavior after being treated with alprazolam. However, this study suggests 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.[21]

Adverse Effects[edit]

The most common adverse effects related to fluoxetine treatment 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.[22]

In the study with clomipramine, 9 dogs underwent withdrawal after discontinuing treatment. 5 of those dogs were successful in overcoming the withdrawal, while 4 dogs relapsed.[18] With regards to these results it is important to note that these sample sizes were relatively small, so we should be cautious about making hasty conclusions. However, these studies have given us a look at one of the many variables regarding psychoactive drug withdrawal.[18][21]

With regards to benzodiazepine treatment, it has been found that canines can develop dependence to these types of medications and go through a similar withdrawal process as humans. For example, their seizure threshold is lowered and anxiety relapse can occur after stopping benzodiazepine treatment.[23] Similarly to treatment of human anxiety disorders, benzodiazepines are a last resort treatment, due to their addiction potential.[17]


  1. ^ a b Woodard, Sherry. "Separation Anxiety in Dogs" (PDF). Best Friends Animal Society. Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  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. 
  5. ^ 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. ^ ASPCA. "Common Dog Behavior Issues". ASPCA. Retrieved November 30,2016.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  8. ^ Takeuchi, Yukari (2000). "Evaluation of treatments for separation anxiety in dogs". Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 217 (3): 342–345. 
  9. ^ Kilcommons, Brian. "How to Cure Your Dog's Separation Anxiety". Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  10. ^ "Separation Anxiety In Dogs and How to Deal with It - Coping with Destructive and Obsessive Compulsive Behaviors". Retrieved 2012-03-09. 
  11. ^ "Dog Training - Dog Separation Anxiety". Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  12. ^ Gorman, Steve. Dogs like to watch SpongeBob on TV. The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved April 23, 2012.
  13. ^ "Fetch the remote, it's DogTV |". Retrieved 2012-03-08. 
  14. ^ "Can Dog TV Make a Profit? - Businessweek". Retrieved 2012-03-08. 
  15. ^ "DOGTV - Watch". Retrieved 2012-03-08. 
  16. ^ "Digital Dogsitter - Cure for dogs' separation anxiety". Retrieved 2012-11-26. 
  17. ^ a b Hamby, Tori Medication now used to treat pet’s behavioral disorders September 30, 2012
  18. ^ a b c Seksel, K; Lindeman, MJ (2001). "Use of clomipramine in treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder, separation anxiety and noise phobia in dogs: A preliminary, clinical study". Australian Veterinary Journal. 79 (4): 252–6. doi:10.1111/j.1751-0813.2001.tb11976.x. PMID 11349411. 
  19. ^ Simpson, BS; Landsberg, GM; Reisner, IR; Ciribassi, JJ; Horwitz, D; Houpt, KA; Kroll, TL; Luescher, A; et al. (2007). "Effects of reconcile (fluoxetine) chewable tablets plus behavior management for canine separation anxiety". Veterinary therapeutics. 8 (1): 18–31. PMID 17447222. 
  20. ^ a b Bowman, Alisa (September 2015). "Soothing Separation Anxiety". Prevention. 67 (9): 161–163. 
  21. ^ a b Crowell-Davis, Sharon L.; Seibert, Lynne M.; Sung, Wailani; Parthasarathy, Valli; Curtis, Terry M. (2003). "Use of clomipramine, alprazolam, and behavior modification for treatment of storm phobia in dogs". Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 222 (6): 744–8. doi:10.2460/javma.2003.222.744. PMID 12675296. 
  22. ^ Irimajiri, M; Luescher, AU; Douglass, G; Robertson-Plouch, C; Zimmermann, A; Hozak, R (2009). "Randomized, controlled clinical trial of the efficacy of fluoxetine for treatment of compulsive disorders in dogs". Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 235 (6): 705–9. doi:10.2460/javma.235.6.705. PMID 19751167. 
  23. ^ Frey, Hans-Hasso; Philippin, Hans-Peter; Scheuler, Wolfgang (1984). "Development of tolerance to the anticonvulsant effect of diazepam in dogs". European Journal of Pharmacology. 104 (1–2): 27–38. doi:10.1016/0014-2999(84)90365-0. PMID 6437848. 

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