2020 has been a turbulent year for a lot of people and our pets are finding it particularly difficult to cope with the changes. Many of us have been home with our pets a lot more than usual and they have been delighted with the extra attention. However, since the easing of lockdown restrictions and the return to work and normal life, a lot of pet owners have reported an increase in separation anxiety in dogs and even cats!
What Is Separation Anxiety?
It can be difficult to recognise separation anxiety in dogs and cats; they tend to react very differently from each other. Dogs are pack animals and need our time and attention far more than cats, but that is not to say that cats don’t love having us around more. So, how do we recognise separation anxiety in our pets?
Separation Anxiety in Dogs
According to the RSPCA, “eight out of ten dogs will find it hard to cope when left alone but half of these won’t show any obvious signs”. Here are some signs to look out for:
- Destructive behaviour - this could be chewing or scratching at doors or furniture often aimed at the door you left from.
- Howling or barking after you’ve left the house.
- Toileting inside the house, often very shortly after being left.
Other signs are often missed or not associated with separation anxiety:
- Shaking or trembling - this can often begin as you prepare to leave the house and often continue for some time after you return.
- Drooling, vomiting or pacing the floor. Again, these signs can often begin as you prepare to leave so look out for them as you go through your morning routine.
- Self-mutilation. This is a lot less common, but some dogs react to stress by chewing their paws, legs or tails and this can sometimes lead to injury or infection.
Separation Anxiety in Cats
Separation anxiety is a lot less common in cats but they are very sensitive to change. So having an empty house all day, to a full house all day and then back to an empty house again can cause stress and anxiety in cats. There are several signs you can look out for:
- Rapid breathing or trembling.
- A change in routine. For example, your cat may begin to change the time of day that they want to go out, or they may choose to eat or use the litter tray only while there is no one around.
- Over or under-grooming. Your cat may begin to groom themselves obsessively, and this can lead to bald patches. Some cats stop grooming altogether, which can result in a scruffy, dull coat and dandruff.
- Hiding and unwillingness to interact. Your cat may hide away and refuse to play or accept any affection or interaction. They may even display some aggression when approached.
- A change in their toileting routine or having accidents or pain when urinating. Cats are susceptible to urinary tract issues when stressed. Products like Cystaid can help.
How to Help a Stressed Dog
Several proven methods help dogs to relax when being left alone, we’ve put together a 6 step plan to help your dog to relax when you’re heading out.
- Exercise and a full tummy. Take your dog for a walk before you leave, ensuring that you return 30 minutes before leaving the house, and feed them a small meal. Dogs are much more relaxed when they have had mental and physical stimulation and have a full tummy.
- Keep their mind active while you’re gone. Shop around for treat based puzzles and games for dogs. If your dog is very food orientated, these puzzles can keep them distracted for quite some time. If your dog loves to chew, take a look at the ‘indestructible’ chew toys — many of these can be filled with treats or paste to distract your dog and encourage them to focus on the toy rather than your furniture!
- Calming products. There are a lot of products designed to calm your dog but some of the most effective are the sprays and plugins. Initially intended for vet visits and fireworks night but now used for separation anxiety, there is a range of natural remedies to aid relaxation. Take a look at Vetscriptions range of calming products.
- Reduce the ‘stressors’. Many dogs are prone to barking and becoming distressed due to unknown noises coming from outside the home. Try keeping a radio on when you’re not in the house or keeping your dog in a quieter area or a room at the back of the house.
- Hire a dog walker or dog sitter. If you leave your dog alone for long periods, it is important to ensure that they are looked after while you’re gone, even if it’s just a neighbour, friend or family member that can pop in and let your dog go to the toilet and enjoy some company. Better yet, employ a dog walker to take your dog out on a walk partway through the day to unwind and get the mental and physical stimulation that they need to stay calm.
Cats are not naturally ‘pack animals’ so the signs of and ways of dealing with separation anxiety in cats can often be very different from that of dogs. Here are a few ways you can help:
- Let them display their natural reactions. If your cat wants to hide, go outside or pace the floor — let them do it. As tempting as it is to pick them up and give them affection, it will give the opposite result to the one you’re intending.
- Provide a place to hide. Cats love to hide in small spaces or up high where they feel safe. Look for cocoon beds or cat trees that have hiding spaces built-in.
Vetscriptions stock a wide range of products in the UK to help with stress and anxiety in dogs and cats at 40% less than most veterinary practices. Purchase today and receive 5% off your first order.