by Jean McGhee, Hollywood Feed
With people headed back into the office and others beginning to travel this holiday season, many pets will be left for extended periods of time for perhaps the first time since the pandemic began last spring. Our furry family members may have gotten used to the extra time with their humans and, when that time is decreased, many pets may exhibit undesirable behaviors as a result of separation anxiety or they may simply struggle with having more alone time.
So, what is separation anxiety and how does it manifest in pets? Separation anxiety is actually a medical condition that can occur when a pet becomes distressed when being separated from a guardian to whom they are overly attached. Many pets show this distress by exhibiting unwanted behaviors such as excessive barking, destructive behaviors (such as chewing furniture, dog beds, shoes and more), pacing, restlessness, drooling, panting, aggression, trying to escape, physical injury, compulsive behaviors and urinating/defecating in the house despite being housebroken. In fact, the American Kennel Club (AKC) estimates that nearly 15% of dogs experience separation anxiety and can be unable to settle down or find comfort when they are left alone and/or separated from their family members.
Here at Hollywood Feed, we recently hosted a free virtual class, entitled “Separation Anxiety in Dogs: How to Get Your Pet Ready for More Alone Time,” taught by Dana Rebaza, one of only one hundred Certified Separation Anxiety Trainers worldwide. The course was part of our free, pet wellness education resource known as Hollywood Feed University.
In this seminar, Rebaza explained common causes of separation anxiety and how to help hyper or anxious dogs cope with the stress. We’ll review some of Dana’s wisdom in this article, and a recording of the full class may be viewed at
Let’s start with common issues that may increase the likelihood of stress when a pet is left alone. Risk factors for separation anxiety can include boredom, health issues, age, general frustration, fear and anxiety. However, contrary to popular belief, some things that do NOT cause separation anxiety in pets include giving them too much attention, allowing a pet to sleep on the bed, “spoiling” a pet, or the pet being an “only pet”.
Next, let’s review some things we can do to help minimize the anxiety our pets feel when they are alone.
Pets crave purposeful activity and, in fact, all pets need our help to deplete their energy every day. You can help utilize your dog’s energy every day through providing opportunities for healthy exercise, play and mental enrichment. Some supplies that can help with this include items such as the Messy Mutts slow feeder bowls (which work with both wet and dry foods); consumable chew toys such as Whimzees; the Kong Wobbler which is an interactive feeder that distributes kibble or treats when your pet plays with it; and the Benebone bully stick holder that slows down chew time for your pup when they are enjoying a treat.
In addition to activities, we can also decrease anxiety in our pets by setting up a safe space for them in our home, which may include a secure crate, comfy dog bed or blanket, and a favorite chew or toy.
One of the first questions we ask when customers come into our stores asking what they can do to minimize anxiety in their pets is what they are feeding their pet. While food alone may not cure a pet’s anxiety, there are certain foods that can have a calming effect on a pet’s mood as well as a positive impact on their digestive system and brain function. These include fish-based foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, turkey, blueberries, sweet potatoes and brown rice, to name a few. In addition, there are several types of calming treats that can help reduce anxiety in pets. These treats can work wonders not only during times of separation, but also during high-stress times such as heavy storms or even during the loud noises caused by July 4th fireworks!
Another helpful tool to prepare our pets for alone time is to gradually introduce them to small bits of separation followed by gradual increases in both distance and time until the pet adjusts without showing signs of distress. Since all pets are different, they will all need different solutions to address separation anxiety. Make sure to go at your pet’s pace and do what works best for you, your pet and your environment. Annual wellness visits to your vet will also help ensure that you are discussing your pet’s physical and emotional well-being on a regular basis.
One silver lining of the pandemic is that more and more workplaces are allowing employees to bring their pets to work. Of course, every day is “Bring Your Dog to Work Day” at Hollywood Feed, but we realize that is not the case everywhere– and, without support, workplaces that are new to this practice may encounter some unwanted behavior at the office. Here again, trial runs and easing into this new environment at your pet’s pace is best. Calming treats can be incredibly effective for making new situations and environments less stressful for your beloved pet and the people and furry friends he or she encounters.
Using the proper training, products, food, treats and overall approach can help set your dog up for successful alone time – which can mean a much more enjoyable return to work or travel for you and your whole family – including Fido!
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