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Canine Separation Anxiety
Last Updated: 07/10/2013

Canine Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a behavioral disorder that occurs when a dog experiences anxiety related to its separation (even for short periods) from family members to whom they have bonded. As a result, the pet engages in problematic behaviors which can include signs such as destruction, vocalization, inappropriate elimination, behavioral depression and others. The degree of anxiety (and the resultant behaviors) depends on the individual patient, but the end result can be very stressful to the affected pet and may significantly impact relationships with their human family members.

Veterinarians estimate that separation anxiety may affect up to 17% of dogs in the United States. Of those cases, nearly 60% go undiagnosed. A critical factor in many cases appears to be a high degree of attachment (termed hyperattachment) between the dog and a family member. The dog becomes emotionally dependent on the company of this individual and shows anxiety when they are absent.

Signs that may be associated with separation anxiety include:

  • Destruction
  • Inappropriate elimination
  • Vocalization, both loud and or soft
  • Licking
  • Salivation, with & without staining
  • Anorexia
  • Pacing
  • Withdrawal

Although some signs, such as destruction, are easy to recognize, others are much more difficult. A pet owner is unlikely to know a pet spends the day pacing unless the dog’s activity area is videotaped. Also, signs commonly seen with separation anxiety can be observed with other problems too, such as puppy chewing, submissive excitement and fear responses. A thorough history and medical work up may be needed to rule out other conditions and arrive at a final diagnosis of separation anxiety.

As with many humans, it is believed many behavior problems in the dog stem from disorders in brain function. Recognition of such disorders and the neurochemicals that determine behavioral patterns has led to the development of strategic approaches to treatment that involve a combination of pharmacotherapy with behavior modification training. These more specific pharmacologic interventions can accelerate and enhance the benefits of behavior modification by targeting specific neurotransmitters of the central nervous system.

Now there is a new tool to help dogs with separation anxiety. Reconcile (fluoxetine hydrochloride), the first selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) approved by the FDA for treatment of canine separation anxiety in conjunction with a behavior modification program.

The once daily, chewable, flavored tablet is available in four weight specific tablets strengths for dogs. Reconcile reduces inappropriate behaviors, minimizes the pet’s distress and increases receptivity to behavior modification training.

Factors Associated With an Increased Risk of Separation Anxiety

  • Traumatic separation
  • Previous inexperience with isolation
  • Excessive greetings or prolonged owner departures
  • Abrupt changes to the owner’s routines
  • Relocation to a new home exposure to a new pet sitter
  • Death in the family

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