Are dogs good for anxiety
5 Ways Pets Help with Stress and Mental Health
Your co-worker at home helps you have a happier, healthier mind.
Millions of people around the world love their pets -- they're part of the family! We enjoy their companionship and going for walks, playing with them and even talking and singing to them.
Evidence suggests that attachment to pets is good for human health and even helps build a better community.
It's no secret that pets can contribute to your happiness. Studies show that dogs reduce stress, anxiety and depression; ease loneliness; encourage exercise and improve your overall health. For example, people with dogs tend to have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease. Just playing with a dog has been shown to raise levels of the feel-good brain chemicals oxytocin and dopamine, creating positive feelings and bonding for both the person and their pet.
Pets can be especially helpful as we grow older. In a survey on healthy aging, adults over 50 reported these top 3 benefits:
- Less stress
- Better sense of purpose
- More social connection
5 ways pets help your mental health
- Pets can reduce work-related stress. Two out of three employees say work stresses them out and 40% say their job gets in the way of their health. Studies show that pets in the workplace help reduce stress and improve employee satisfaction.
- Pets can help increase productivity, wherever you work. When a dog joins a virtual meeting, group members rank their teammates higher on trust, team cohesion and camaraderie.
- Pets help manage anxiety. Now more than ever, many people are feeling anxious or struggling with mental health. Pets provide companionship and support.
- Pets can help you be more active. They give you a reason to get outside, get some fresh air and get active, which is proven to improve your mood, sleep and mental health.
- Pets provide a sense of togetherness. The bond with a pet helps you to not feel alone. When owners see, touch, hear or talk to their companion animals, it brings a sense of goodwill, joy, nurturing and happiness.
Written by American Heart Association editorial staff and reviewed by science and medicine advisers. See our editorial policies and staff.
Last Reviewed: May 20, 2021
Enjoy a Day Off from Your Home Office
6 Health Benefits of Horses
The Best Dogs for People with Anxiety
By Sarah Ashley
Published May 11, 2021
Additional contributions by
A little bit of anxiety is good. It helps us stay alert and survive potentially life-threatening situations. A lotta bit of anxiety? Not so much. If you’re looking for a healthy way to manage general anxiety, heightened anxiety disorders or emotional distress, Anxiety.org suggests (drum roll, please) pets! Yes, animals could be the difference between controlling anxious feelings and letting them take over. Dogs have been used as therapy and companion animals for centuries. The best dogs for people with anxiety will help their owners feel more confident, calm and able to cope with stressful situations.
How dogs can benefit people with anxiety
Aside from being adorable and fluffy, dogs can help people with anxiety on a physical level. Studies have shown pet owners have lower resting heart rates and blood pressure levels than people without pets. Pet people also have less intense reactions to aggravating events and faster recovery time after experiencing psychological or physical stress.
Harvard Health also mentions dogs can help a person stay active (hello, early morning dog walks) and feel less isolated (hello, constant roommate). A Human Animal Bond Research Institute survey discovered 80 percent of pet owners feel less lonely with a pet. Dogs can be excellent ice breakers when meeting someone new; pups don’t mind being center stage.
Even spending time with a dog is good for stress reduction. One study found university students who participated in an animal visitation program exhibited lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels after just ten minutes petting a dog! Staring at pictures of animals did not achieve the same results.
Types of support dogs
Dogs are so good at supporting humans when it comes to mental health, we’ve given them official titles! There are emotional support dogs, therapy dogs and service dogs, just to name a few. These are all different in the eyes of the law - and a person can definitely adopt a dog specifically to help ease anxiety without having to register the animal anywhere as such. These designations come in handy primarily when it’s time to travel or visit a public space.
Service dogs are top tier. They’re highly trained animals recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act that not only provide emotional support but also perform a function that their human owner cannot. Service dogs are trained—and legally allowed—to go everywhere with their owner.
Therapy dogs also go through rigorous training and testing to get certified, but aren’t usually employed full-time by someone in need. Instead, they provide social-emotional benefits to a variety of people like students, hospital patients and nursing home residents. Therapy dogs do not have the legal access or privileges that a service dog has.
Emotional support animals are companion animals medical professionals (such as psychiatrists) prescribe to patients with physical, psychiatric or intellectual disabilities, like anxiety or PTSD. ESAs receive no special training or regulated certification, nor are they required to by law. However, ESAs are protected under the Federal Fair Housing Act, which says landlords cannot discriminate against tenants who have an emotional support animal. (Also, they can be any species! Dogs, cats, even horses have served as emotional support animals.) A note from a licensed medical professional is usually required to bring an ESA on an airplane or into a public business.
Finally, there are companion pets. Companion dogs are similar to emotional support and therapy dogs but are different in the eyes of the law. Aka, these pets do not have legal access to the same areas that emotional support, therapy and service animals do. People suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD and similar ailments that prevent them from enjoying life are ideal candidates for companion dogs.
How to choose the right breed
Now, the tricky part: Choosing the best dog to help reduce anxiety. The CDC advises doing significant research before adopting the first pet you see. All individuals—human and dog—have needs that must be met. The best match might take a while to find. Be patient! Visit local shelters or reputable breeders to experience a breed first hand.
Key elements to consider are:
- Temperament: Dogs who are less reactive with lower prey drives won’t bark at the drop of a hat or take off running when they spot a squirrel. Calm breeds who can adapt to their human’s lifestyle are ideal.
- Energy Level: If exercise keeps a person’s anxiety at bay, get a dog who has lots of energy! If introversion and being a homebody is the name of the game, stick with breeds who are content lounging at home.
- Size: Folks who want a companion dog that can travel anywhere with them should focus on smaller breeds.
- Grooming needs: Do regular (expensive) trips to the groomer’s sound anxiety-inducing? Opt for a low-maintenance breed and relax knowing all it takes is a weekly brushing to keep their coat in check.
- Trainability: Ideally, a canine who reduces anxiety will learn quickly, retain commands and respond when called.
Remember, focusing solely on breed may not be the best route. All dogs have unique personalities. The breeds on our list are ones we know to be soothing presences, eager to please and fairly low-maintenance.
Jan Rozehnal/Getty Images
Temperament: Charming, Independent
Energy Level: Moderate
Average Height: 6.5 inches
Average Weight: 5 pounds
Grooming: Low Maintenance
At six pounds max, they’re as low maintenance as dogs get, requiring little exercise beyond shopping for sweaters. Small enough to snuggle in bed and sympathetic enough to nurse Elle Woods through heartbreak, they will follow you from room to room looking for attention. An ideal distraction from your inner monologue.
Дарья Амосеева/Getty Images
2. Pembroke Welsh Corgi
Temperament: Adaptable, Sweet
Energy Level: High
Average Height: 11.5 inches
Average Weight: 30 pounds
Grooming: Low Maintenance
Obedient and loyal “without being needy” (according to the American Kennel Club)—is it any wonder Queen Elizabeth can’t get enough? Quick to bond with humans, they are often tapped as companion dogs for nursing home residents and people with disabilities. They’ll adore sitting at your feet while you sip a comforting cup of tea. Right, Liz?
3. French Bulldog
Temperament: Affectionate, Even-tempered
Energy Level: Low
Average Height: 12 inches
Average Weight: 22 pounds
Grooming: Low Maintenance
This squishy-faced lapdog deserves its popularity. Frenchies are flexible, even-tempered and all about snuggling away a bad day. Training can be tricky because these sweeties are stubborn, but they make great roomies for homebodies.
4. Cocker Spaniel
Temperament: Sweet, Happy, Obedient
Energy Level: Moderate
Average Height: 14.5 inches
Average Weight: 25 pounds
Grooming: Brush Regularly
Sweet and extremely child-friendly, Prince William and Kate Middleton’s preferred breed is known to connect with kids facing mental health or emotional challenges, per Animal Planet. Plus, their fluff factor is off the charts. Just bury your nose—and your worries—in their long, silky fur.
Temperament: Curious, Sensitive
Energy Level: Moderate
Average Height: 8.5 inches (Standard), 5.5 inches (Miniature)
Average Weight: 24 pounds (Standard), 10 pounds (Miniature)
Grooming: Low Maintenance
Playful and affectionate, wiener dogs are also innately hilarious. You’ll be so amused by their everyday ambles around town, fear won’t have room to rear its head. (Hey, there’s even a museum dedicated to them.) They’re smart, but sensitive, so be nice with training tactics.
Mike Ko/EyeEm/Getty Images
6. Golden Retriever
Temperament: Friendly, Loyal
Energy Level: High
Average Height: 23 inches
Average Weight: 65 pounds
Grooming: Brush Regularly
There are many reasons why Goldens (and their various doodle hybrids) are some of the most popular therapy, guide and rescue dogs, alongside Labradors. They usually ace the Canine Good Citizen test—the gold standard for certifying emotional support animals. Highly intelligent and easily trained, their always-happy temperaments can shift from playful to placid with ease.
7. Labrador Retriever
Temperament: Playful, Obedient
Energy Level: High
Average Height: 23 inches
Average Weight: 67.5 pounds
Grooming: Low Maintenance
See above (and know that Labs are just as keen on learning commands and pleasing humans as Goldens are).
8. Yorkshire Terrier (yorkie)
Temperament: Feisty, Doting
Energy Level: Moderate
Average Height: 7.5 inches
Average Weight: 6 pounds
Grooming: High Maintenance
According to Animal Planet, during World War II, Dr. Charles Mayo of Mayo Clinic fame took a Yorkshire terrier on his rounds to see injured naval officers. The Yorkie so lifted the soldiers’ spirits, he became the first-ever therapy dog. With a pedigree like that, a tendency to establish tight bonds with their owners and a willingness to travel anywhere by shoulder bag, this little breed has a whole lot to offer.
Zbynek Pospisil/Getty Images
Temperament: Independent, Sweet
Energy Level: Moderate to High
Average Height: 27.5 inches
Average Weight: 65 pounds
Grooming: Low Maintenance
Despite being able to sprint up to 35 miles per hour, these gentle giants—many of them retirees rescued from racetracks—prefer to lie around. Incredibly sweet and docile (they rarely bark), with smooth soft coats, they make ideal roommates. Bonus? They “hug” by leaning their often-hundred-pound bodies against their human’s legs.
Justin Pumfrey/Getty Images
10. Saint Bernard
Temperament: Playful, Patient
Energy Level: Moderate
Average Height: 28 inches
Average Weight: 140 pounds
Loving, eager to please and tolerant of even the wildest domestic animals (small kids), it’s no wonder J. M. Barrie said a Saint Bernard inspired the Darling children’s nanny in Peter Pan (yes, even though Nana was a Newfoundland). These massive teddy bears can reach 180 pounds but only require moderate exercise. With their deep soulful eyes and patient demeanors, they’re like ashwagandha in dog form.
Tomas Rodriguez/Getty Images
11. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Temperament: Adaptable, Affectionate
Energy Level: Low
Average Height: 12.5 inches
Average Weight: 15.5 pounds
Grooming: Low Maintenance
Known for their adaptability to their owners’ routines, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels will happily bend to meet you where you are on any given day—it's why we consider them the single best dogs for renters. Soft as silk and eager to snuggle, Cavs are soothing creatures to have around. Plus, their low prey drive makes them ideal walking buddies.
Yuttana Jaowattana/EyeEm/Getty Images
Temperament: Adaptable, Charming
Energy Level: Low to Moderate
Average Height: 11. 5 inches
Average Weight: 16 pounds
These tiny—yet sturdy—dogs were bred as companions dogs for emperors in ancient China. Later on, they were the favorites of Dutch and British monarchs. Known for their goofy personalities, Pugs can go with the flow and offer nothing but love and devotion.
13. Bernese Mountain Dog
Temperament: Calm, Affectionate
Energy Level: Moderate
Average Height: 25.5 inches
Average Weight: 92 pounds
Grooming: Brush Frequently
Gentle souls like Bernese Mountain dogs get along swimmingly with kids and other animals. Often, they’ll pick a favorite person and won’t be afraid to show it. While they need ample exercise, they’re also content lounging around with said favorite person, meditating or quietly contemplating life’s little joys.
14. Miniature American Shepherd
Temperament: Smart, Easy-going
Energy Level: High
Average Height: 15. 5 inches
Average Weight: 30 pounds
Grooming: Brush Regularly
These stunners are ideal medium-sized dogs for folks who enjoy constant companionship but aren’t eager to have a giant Saint Bernard roaming their home. The Miniature American Shepherd is incredibly loyal and even keel. Their intelligence makes training a breeze.
Mathias Ahrens/Getty Images
Temperament: Patient, Sweet
Energy Level: Moderate
Average Height: 27 inches
Average Weight: 125 pounds
Grooming: Low Maintenance
It’s hard not to feel safe and secure around a giant, fluffy Newfoundland. These dogs may look intimidating, but they’re known for their patience and ability to bring joy and comfort to people of all ages.
Stress reliever for dogs that can be given
Solution to the main problem: stress in dogs
Stress - feelings of nervousness, anxiety or apprehension - is at the root of most behavioral problems in dogs. Sometimes anxiety is perfectly normal, but it becomes a problem when it is severe or frequent enough to negatively impact a pet's or its owner's quality of life. If your dog is stressed, you may notice a combination of the following symptoms:
Urination, defecation in the wrong place
Dog crouching close to the ground or trying to hide in a "safe" place
wide open eyes
Destruction of toys, shoes and other items
The cause of stress can be a move, a change of scenery, loud noises, a long absence of the owner of the house, the appearance of a new animal or person in the house.
Dealing with stress in dogs
Behavior modification is the best way to get rid of anxiety in animals. Protocols usually involve teaching dogs to stay calm when they are exposed to mild versions of their triggers, rewarding them, and gradually increasing the intensity of their exposure as long as the dog remains calm.
However, dogs sometimes find it difficult to remain calm even under the most moderate stressors. This is the time when medications and other anxiety-relieving foods become invaluable. What do we recommend giving your dog in a stressful situation.
What is a sedative?
A sedative is a medication (used by humans or animals) that helps them relax and reduce anxiety. Unlike a real anesthetic, which makes the animal extremely sleepy and unresponsive, a sedative allows the dog to be calm while still allowing him to be aware of what is happening and interact with the world around him. Sedatives are generally NOT addictive.
What are the types of sedatives?
Aggression or psychogenic itching is a direct indication for prescribing drugs in this group. Application is possible only under the supervision of a veterinarian due to frequent side effects: food refusal and increased thirst.
An example is Amitriptyline, the course of which is from one month. The effect is not immediately noticeable, only after 3-4 weeks. It is also necessary to regularly monitor the function of hematopoiesis - donating blood for a general clinical analysis, since tricyclic antidepressants can suppress the functions of the red bone marrow.
Acepromazine is the most commonly prescribed oral sedative for dogs. It is a member of the phenothiazine class of sedatives and works primarily by blocking dopamine receptors in the brain, thereby inhibiting certain brain functions. Unfortunately, acepromazine tablets can have very different effects. Some dogs may not appear sedated at all, while others may be overly calm, even with similar doses of the drug. In addition, the onset and duration of the effect may be variable and difficult to predict.
A potentially better option is to administer the liquid form of acepromazine for injection between the dog's gums and cheek. The drug is absorbed through the mucous membranes of the oral cavity and provides a more reliable sedative effect. Regardless of how acepromazine is administered in animals at risk, side effects such as low blood pressure and seizures are possible. That is why the drug is recommended to be used only in a veterinary clinic.
Gabapentin. It is an anticonvulsant and analgesic drug used in humans and animals for nerve pain. In doses exceeding the usual, used for pain, causes relaxation and drowsiness. Gabapentin can be used as a tablet or liquid. Safe for almost any dog, can be used for both young and old sedation.
Eliminate feelings of anxiety and fear. In case of overdose, refusal to feed and apathy can be observed. The main substance from the group of barbiturates, which is used in veterinary medicine, is phenobarbital. It is part of such drugs as Vetspokoin and Stop stress.
Benzodiazepines are the most commonly used in veterinary medicine. They have a calming and hypnotic effect on the dog's body. The drug is prescribed only by a veterinarian in serious cases of protracted stressful situations. Such drugs quickly relieve anxiety symptoms, but are addictive, and the effect of the action passes in a short time. Examples of such drugs: Lorazepam, Diazepam.
Safe nutritional supplements based on the amino acid tryptophan help animals cope with low levels of stress. An example of such a drug can be Trinorm tablets.
Natural herbal sedatives have few side effects, but do not work on all animals. Simultaneous use with other sedatives is unacceptable. Drugs that are most often prescribed to animals: tablets and drops cat Bayun and Fiteks.
Pheromones are substances that provide communication at the level of subtle odors, which are available only to animals of one species. That is, a cat, a rabbit or a person is not able to feel the pheromones of a dog. To eliminate anxiety and stress in dogs, synthetic analogues of this substance, which is secreted by a nursing bitch, are used. Pheromones are absolutely safe, have no side effects, but not all owners are satisfied with the result of their use. The most famous drugs for dogs: Adaptil, Sentry, Zilken.
How to calm a dog at home?
Owners looking for a sedative to give their dogs at home are somewhat limited in their choices. A variety of over-the-counter medications are available to treat mild anxiety, including:
Spot-on preparations for application to the withers. No Stress Beaphar. The effect persists for 7 days.
Diffusers and sprays . Adaptil, Beaphar. The effect is achieved quickly. You can spray the product in the air or apply it to your pet's bed. No direct contact with the dog is required.
Oral drops . Stop stress, Fiteks, Vetspokoin. The medicine is not recommended to be added to water, but can be applied to food if the dog is sure to eat the entire portion.
Collars . Sentry, Cani Comfort, Adaptil. Collars based on pheromones, the effect begins after 15 minutes, the duration with constant wear is 4 weeks.
Gel Sileo . Applied to the dog's gums, sedation is achieved in a short time and lasts for several hours.
Tablets . Stop stress, Calm down, GIGI Da-ba Relax Plus, Vetspokoin, Zilken.
All drugs with different active ingredients. Be sure to read the instructions before use.
What are the benefits of sedation?
Sedatives are cheap, easy to give, and reduce stress for you, the veterinarians, and most importantly, your pet. Sedatives also protect against bites and scratches from panicked animals. Sedatives calm animals, help them stay still and prevent them from getting scared or hurting themselves.
What are the disadvantages of sedatives?
Sedatives don't work as well when given after the pet is already aroused, so most dogs are better off taking a sedative before they become stressed. The drugs require you to watch your pet for several hours after administration. Some drugs have side effects such as excessive lethargy, refusal to feed, lowering blood pressure. That is why it is better to engage in the selection of the drug and its dosage together with a veterinarian.
Sedatives are not something to fear or worry about. There is nothing wrong with giving or offering a sedative to your beloved pet. Modern medicines are safe, effective and do not bring big losses. They are easy to give and are not addictive.
If you have any questions about sedatives or think they might help your pet, our veterinarians can determine which sedative is best for your dog, depending on the problem to be addressed and general condition your pet's health.
Whatever medication is prescribed, be sure to strictly follow dosage instructions, never give more than the recommended amount of sedation, and discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your doctor.
Specialists of the veterinary clinic "in Good Hands" work around the clock and seven days a week. Call or come to the appointment!
Author: Kulakov Konstantin Igorevich
SEPARATION ANXIETY IN DOGS
Author: Debra Horwitz DVM, Dipl. ACVB. St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Dr. Debra Horwitz graduated from Michigan State Veterinary College in 1975 and received her American College of Ethology degree in 1996. Her ethology center is located in St. Louis, Missouri. Dr. Horwitz lectures both in North America and internationally, is a frequent television and radio speaker, and works as an animal behavior consultant for the Veterinary Information Network (VIN). Author and editor of a number of articles and books, including the BSAVA manual on the ethology of cats and dogs (1st and 2nd editions).
Dogs can have a hard time even a short separation from the owner. How to identify this problem and minimize its consequences for the animal itself and for others?
When considering separation behavioral problems in dogs, it is necessary to separately study the behavior patterns that manifest themselves in the absence of the owner.
The motives for such behavior may be fear, anxiety, excessive attachment, arousal due to external stimuli and/or lack of adequate stimuli. The classic symptoms of separation anxiety are disruptive behavior, vocalization, and urination/defecation in inappropriate places. But individual manifestations can also occur, such as increased salivation, anorexia, attempts to escape, or depression.
Separation anxiety (TS) is stressful for both dogs and their owners. Chronic stress leads to a decrease in resistance to disease, and because of the things spoiled by the dog, the relationship between the owner and his pet can be disrupted.
Classification, definitions and prevalence
- Separation anxiety refers to a set of disorders associated with separation. In the absence of the owner, vocalization, the administration of natural needs and destructive behavior take place.
- The study of the anamnesis will help to make a correct diagnosis.
- The use of pheromones and medications, combined with behavior change work, can lead to an improvement in the dog's condition and possibly a full recovery.
Separation anxiety is usually referred to as the stressful state exhibited by an animal during separation from those to whom it is attached. It should be noted that some animals experience stress primarily from separation from humans, while others experience stress because something bad happened to them when they were alone. Animals of the last group usually suffer from various phobias, especially those associated with noise or thunderstorms. Some veterinarians emphasize the so-called "overattachment" as a necessary element of the diagnosis, while others do not use this term. It is believed that over-attachment occurs when the primary attachment of a young dog to its mother persists, which leads to separation anxiety.
Other frequently cited factors are the adoption of an adult dog from a shelter and the intense stress of over-attachment, which may play a role in the development of separation anxiety later on.
Separation anxiety is a very common diagnosis in dogs whose owners seek advice from specialized centers because of behavior problems in their pets, and the proportion of dogs suffering from this disorder increases with age.
Specific causes of this disorder have not been found, but there are a number of assumptions about the factors that cause it. The high social activity of domestic dogs developed as a result of selection contributes to a strong emotional attachment to people and causes stress during separation from family members. The puppy's early memories, such as premature weaning or severe illness, can also be negatively affected. There is currently no definitive evidence that spoiled dogs often develop separation anxiety.
Signs of separation anxiety
It is impossible to say specifically what age or breed dogs are most often subject to separation stress, but among the examined patients with this diagnosis, male dogs predominate. Owners of very young puppies are much less likely to report this problem to the veterinarian, but this may be due to the owner's inability to recognize stress in the face of other behavioral problems common in puppies and young dogs. Separation anxiety can manifest itself in a dog, whether it lives alone in the family or there are other dogs.
Usually, owners complain about their pet's destructive behavior, urinating in the wrong place, and/or vocalizing when they are not at home. Symptoms are not permanent, they may come and go. Difficulties may arise from an early age, or manifest themselves in connection with changes in the family's lifestyle (other working hours, relocation) or in its composition. Symptoms are most noticeable during the period of close bonding between owner and dog. A change in daily routine, coupled with destructive behavior, vocalization and / or dog defecation in the wrong place, clearly hint at separation stress. Sometimes it is impossible to establish the situation or trigger that provoked its development, and sometimes it is useless to know the exact duration of the disorder. The age of the animal matters: the sudden onset of symptoms in adult dogs may indicate veterinary or cognitive changes, while young dogs may simply be too active. Some animals show symptoms during all the absences of the owner, while others tolerate some of them. Stress responses generally fall into the following categories:
- Anxious reactions in the presence of the owner.
- Anxious reaction to the preparation of the owner for departure and the departure itself.
- Continued stress after owner's departure. Some dogs may exhibit other anxiety disorders at this time that are not necessarily related to separation stress.
Questions to Identify Separation Anxiety
Important topics for diagnosing separation anxiety
- Questions about strong attachment between owner and pet
- Questions relating to the behavior of the dog when the owner is about to leave
- Questions about what the pet does while the owner is away
- Questions about how the pet behaves when the owner returns
- What does the owner do to deal with the dog's disorder?
Information about the interaction of the owner and his pet during the day can shed light on the sources of anxiety and anxiety. It is necessary to carefully read the schedule of feedings, toileting, training and games, and find out what time the dog is left at home alone. Defecation and urination in the home and destructive behavior of some dogs can be attributed to a lack of walks and exercise. Understanding the owner-pet relationship helps to establish the impact of over-attachment in cases where the pet does not normally show it but is stressed when left alone at home.
Most of the reactions begin when the owner is about to leave, so asking questions about this situation can provide useful information. Some dogs get stressed every time they are apart, while others are fine with leaving for work but show anxiety at other times, or vice versa.
It is important to know what the dog does when left alone at home. Common stress responses to the absence of the owner are: destructive behavior, defecation and urination at home, vocalization, locomotor activity (circling, trembling, shaking), gastrointestinal disturbances, and self-inflicted physical injury.
Examples of questions about the relationship between owner and pet
- Does your dog follow you all the time, does he need to be nearby or keep you in sight?
- Does your dog only eat when you are around?
- Will your pet eat if you are going to leave?
- Does your pet have a need to attract attention or constantly interact with you at any cost?
Destructive behavior is usually directed either at windows and doors, or at the owner's belongings, or both. It is not entirely clear whether the choice of object depends on the motives of the dog. If the dog is locked in a cage, the animal may try to move it and even get injured while trying to escape. Again, the motivation for this behavior is not entirely clear: is it a response to loneliness or to being caged? There are dogs that will actively try to prevent the departure of the owner, sometimes even quite aggressively. There are frequent complaints of urination/defecation in the absence of the owner, even in cases where, just before the owner left, the animal was taken outside and made sure that it "did its own business. "
Questions about the dog's behavior when the owner is about to leave
- What does your dog do when you are about to leave?
- What kind of reactions does your dog show as the end of the training camp approaches?
- Has your dog ever tried to stop you from leaving?
- Where does your pet stay when you leave?
- If you lock up a dog, how do you do it?
- How does your dog handle being locked up?
- When you have already left the house, does the dog show any signs of anxiety: whining, barking, scratching the door, etc.?
Vocalization usually consists of whining, howling and barking. Motor activity is expressed in the fact that the dog rushes about, circles near the owner or trembles immediately before and after his departure. Other signs may include gastrointestinal disturbances (lack of appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea), self-inflicted injury or damage while trying to escape imprisonment. Many dogs show very strong excitement when the owner returns - jumping, running, vocalizing.
Analysis of behavior patterns
Tracking patterns of behavior over time will help you better understand the situation. In separation anxiety, unlike other separation problems, the behavioral response occurs within 5 to 30 minutes of the owner leaving. Helping in determining the time frame is the question of the shortest time of absence when the problem behavior (defecation, disruptive behavior, etc.) was detected upon return. Dogs with TS show problem behavior shortly after the owner leaves and later in the day. The reaction of fear to various events (thunderstorms, loud noises, intrusions into the territory) in the absence of the owner can manifest itself more diversely and blurry in time. Video recordings made while the pet was at home alone can be an invaluable aid in making and verifying the diagnosis.
It is necessary to carefully study the possibility of the influence of existing pathologies. Anxiety may arise from the fact that the animal suffers from a chronic disease (for example, a skin or intestinal disorder). Metabolic disorders that affect the psyche (Cushing's syndrome, thyroid disease, Addison's disease) can also cause changes in the behavior of the animal. Long-term care of a sick animal helps to strengthen the relationship between the owner and his pet, but after recovery, when the animal should become more independent, problems can arise. Illnesses and medications that cause increased water intake or frequent stools can cause you to urinate or defecate at home unrelated to stress. It is especially difficult to diagnose animals in which TS began at an early age. Owners often attribute the observed symptoms to young age, lack of exercise or physical activity. Video filming an animal at home alone will help to understand whether the animal is really stressed or behaves in an undesirable way just “out of boredom”.
Other causes of unwanted behavior
- Vocalization: external stimuli, social interaction, other fears and anxieties
- Destructive behavior: external stimuli, lack of physical activity, loud noises, anxiety
- Inappropriate urination/defecation: lack of proper training, inability to use normal toilet areas, veterinary problems
Separation anxiety can occur along with other similar reactions, such as fears or phobias, so stress sometimes occurs not because of separation anxiety, but as a reaction to something else. Dogs suffering from fear may experience a fear-inducing stimulus when left alone and consequently exhibit fear-motivated behavior. It is necessary to clarify how the animal reacts to loud noises, thunder and lightning, fireworks and other external stimuli, because all these anxiety disorders can contribute to the stress response.
Some types of behavior can also affect the relationship between an animal and a person. Pertinent questions here include aggressive behavior related to food, possessions, touching, trying to take something away from the dog, discipline, and displays of territoriality towards guests. To distinguish separation anxiety from a problem of defecation and urination inside the house, you need to make sure that during walks the dog really sends out natural needs. Instances of disruptive behavior while the owner is at home but busy may be indicative of problems other than separation anxiety. Owners of older dogs should be asked if they have noticed signs of dementia such as loss of learned skills, changes in sleep/wake cycle, changes in social interaction, disorientation and confusion.
To make a diagnosis of separation anxiety, the medical history must include evidence of urination/defecation in the wrong place, vocalizations, disruptive behavior and/or other previously listed signs, as well as a check of what kind of behavior and how often occurs in the absence of the owner.
Destructive behavior (such as doors, furniture, shoes, etc.) may be due to separation anxiety, but may also be the result of play or curiosity of young and active animals not getting proper exercise. Such behavior can manifest itself during the demonstration of rights to the territory near windows and doors, during bouts of phobia due to thunderstorms and loud noise, and also due to dental problems. In these cases, the problem often occurs regardless of whether the owner of the house or not. However, an attempt to suppress territorial reactions can lead to the fact that they will only manifest more often when the owner is not around. Some dogs may become anxious when they are locked in a cage or alone indoors and start chewing and ruining things. Usually they are just as difficult to endure the restriction of freedom and when the owner of the house.
Vocalization (howling, barking) is common in dogs and may be due to external stimulus, social interaction with other dogs, territorial displays or play, however, all of these occur both in the presence of the owner, and in his absence. Audio recordings can be very important in determining the initial cause: background noises, intonation, pitch, and frequency of vocalizations are useful in identifying causes. High-pitched vocalizations are associated with stress and are distinct from sounds made during territory defense, games, and other activities.
Departure of natural needs in the wrong place
The administration of natural necessities in the house in the absence of the owner can occur due to improper upbringing, diseases of the urinary tract and gastrointestinal tract, as well as due to endocrine dysfunction causing increased water consumption. Urination may also occur as a sign of arousal or submissiveness, to mark territory, out of fear, and as a result of perceptual disturbance.
In the presence of veterinary problems, urination / defecation can occur both in the absence of the owner and in his presence. In this case, the animal is tense, it may have blood in the urine or feces, frequent urination, diarrhea or constipation. If veterinary causes of such behavior are suspected, the usual methods of investigation should be used.
Urination in arousal and as a sign of submission usually happens in full view of people. It is difficult to tell if this is due to ST or due to lack of training and inaccessibility of walking areas, unless the owner observes the animal on the street or inspects the house daily for signs of contamination. If it is not clear how often urination/defecation occurs, keeping a diary, which should record the time and place of the dog's bowel movements, as well as video recordings of the behavior of the animal when the owner is not at home, can help. Perceptually impaired dogs often show other signs of dementia as well, such as confusion, disorientation, and changes in the sleep/wake cycle.
Other fears and anxieties
Separation anxiety can coexist with other anxiety disorders. Fear of new, unfamiliar situations, fear of strangers, aggression, compulsive (compulsive) behavior, and aggression towards the owner's family members may manifest in conjunction with ST or other behavioral problems associated with separation. These types of responses can occur in response to a variety of stimuli, including mail delivery, garbage collection, thunderstorms, roadworks, or nearby construction. This can lead to the owner not suspecting separation anxiety in their pet, not only in the absence of daily destructive behavior, but even worse, when the dog exhibits characteristic behavior when frightening events occur. However, for successful treatment, all associated fears and anxieties must be identified and treated. In cases where several diagnoses are made at the same time, it becomes necessary to prioritize their treatment in order to effectively use the time and effort of the owner. If the dog is aggressive, the safety of people who may interact with it should be ensured.
A comfortable environment can make life easier with a dog with TS until he learns to stay at home alone. More frequent walks and games are also beneficial because increased activity often makes pets calmer. If possible, it's best not to leave your dog at home alone, because every anxious moment of separation reinforces the stress response, and the dog continues to defecate in the house and ruin things. Obfuscating the signs of impending departure, or even avoiding them entirely, can reduce anxiety. For example, prepare the car in advance in the evening, leave the house in casual clothes and change at work, mask the departure with sounds (of a washing machine or dishwasher) while the dog is busy with a chew toy.
Gradually becoming accustomed to a confined space or room can alleviate the anxiety associated with leaving the owner, but one should not expect immediate results. Care must be taken when locking up the dog, as if the animal becomes restless in a confined space and tries to escape, it may injure itself. Medications and pheromones have a calming effect on some dogs, but again, they may not be the only way to treat them. Many animals may be relieved by the sight of an owner-owned item or piece of clothing as a comfort signal, but this author's experience shows that this is not very helpful in highly agitated patients.
Long-term treatment strategies
Since dogs with separation anxiety are already stressed, punishment is contraindicated and owners should stop all punishment for problematic behavior in their absence.
Treatment for separation anxiety should focus on the areas listed in the Targets of Treatment Stages table.
Targets for treatment steps
- Dog develops more independence
- Creating a predictable environment and routine can reduce anxiety
- Clear ways to achieve the desired
- Teaching calmness in the presence of the owner
- Signs of impending departure
- Teaching that certain actions do not pose a threat
- Reduced need to watch the owner and follow him everywhere
- Possibility to relax for the dog
- Edible toys that the owner leaves when he leaves
- Creating pleasant associations with activities related to care
- Gradual adjustment to departures and absences
- Teaching your dog that loneliness is not a cause for alarm
Change in relationship between animal and owner
Creating a more predictable and reliable interaction between owner and dog is especially helpful for anxious animals. This approach will make the dog more independent, able to calm down and relax apart from the owner when they are at home together, which will be the first step towards a more balanced behavior of the animal in solitude. Owners are advised to establish a "command-response" relationship with their dog, requiring the dog to execute a command before it gets what it wants. The dog just needs to follow the command before going outside, before being petted, before being fed, etc.
Dogs often have symptoms such as a tendency to follow the owner everywhere and attract his attention. In this case, owners are usually asked to ignore attention-getting attempts such as pawing, prodding, whining, and barking. The dog can only receive attention for calm, quiet behavior, the owner must start and stop interaction and play. It is necessary to teach the animal to sit quietly on its rug and not to follow the owner without command if he needs to leave the room. If possible, short enforced periods of separation when the owner is at home can be helpful. If the dog can lie quietly and relaxed when the owner is at home, but not around, it may be able to behave the same way when he leaves.
It is essential that the owner interact with the animal and behave in a predictable manner. Daily exercise, play and communication are essential for a good relationship and can calm an anxious dog.
Reducing the information content of signs of upcoming care
Some dogs become anxious when they notice various actions the owner takes before leaving. Infrequent and random demonstration of these actions without leaving home can help reduce their predictive power and anxiety in such cases. However, this method does not always help. If the actions associated with the departure of the owner are repeated too often, and there is not enough time between them for the dog to relax, then they increase rather than reduce the anxiety associated with them. Thus, such actions should be performed one to three times a day and only if the dog is calm between demonstrations. If the animal seems more agitated as a result of this method, the practice should be stopped immediately.
Changing the reaction to signs of impending departure from undesirable to desirable
In some cases, it is worth trying to change the dog's initially anxious emotion associated with care. One method is to give your dog a treat just before going out. There are so-called feeder toys on the market, which can be filled with regular daily food or other products and given to the dog at the moment the owner leaves. If the dog focuses on the toy and eats the food, it can reduce anxiety.
It can also be helpful to place the dog in his "safe zone" just before leaving and give him the command to relax.
Changing the ritual of departure and return
In many cases, returning to and leaving home is filled with emotion and intense action. Therefore, owners are asked to ignore the pet for 10-15 minutes before leaving and after returning. You can take the dog to the toilet, but you can stroke it and talk to it only when it is calm, relaxed and has followed the command.
Encouraging the replacement of an unwanted reaction with a desired one and desensitization can be used to train a dog to stay at home alone and not worry. "Planned" absences of the owner are carried out with careful control of the time of absence so that the dog does not experience anxiety. At first, you should leave for a short time, and each time you accompany your departure with some special sign to make it clear to the dog that this separation will not be the same as usual. The consistent introduction of three measures will help the dog build the necessary associations:
- The time of absence is carefully controlled and is very short at first.
- Before leaving, the owner takes the dog to a place where he usually feels comfortable.
- Immediately before leaving, the owner gives the dog a new permanent "safety sign" or special signal.
The purpose of this is for the dog to develop clear associations between the departure of the owner, a new signal and good behavior, which will allow him to endure forced loneliness. To be effective, this learning departure must have all the characteristics of a real one: if the owner drives a car, you need to take the keys and drive it off; if care is related to work, you need to take a portfolio with documents. Any action that was not previously performed when leaving the house can serve as a safety sign. You can turn on the radio or TV, ring the bell, etc. You need to repeat this action every time. If possible, the dog is left in a new location, such as where it would be left if it did not suffer from ST, or where relaxation and replacing an unwanted reaction with a desired one were practiced. When leaving and returning, one should not show strong emotions. The duration of the absence is gradually increased, each time by 3-5 minutes, with short periods randomly alternating with longer ones in such a way that the dog does not catch the pattern. Destructive behavior, barking or dirtying in the house in the absence of the owners suggests that the separation has been too long, and the next period should be shorter. Video recording will help analyze the behavior of an animal left alone.
To reduce anxiety, calming pheromones can be used, which are available in the form of a nebulizer or a collar soaked in them. Nebulizers can be a useful adjunct to therapy because most medications take only a few weeks to be effective, and behavior change plans also take time.
There are currently several licensed drugs for the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs. In a number of countries, clomipramine, fluoxetine and selegiline are approved for the treatment of a range of behavioral problems. The first two drugs are indicated for TS, while selegiline is approved for treatment of emotional problems (which may include TS).
It is important to remember that only a veterinarian can choose the right drugs. To do this, he needs to collect a detailed history and conduct a series of studies. These drugs can be hazardous to the animal's health combinations with other drugs. Thus, neither clomipramine nor fluoxetine should be administered in combination with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (selegiline or amitraz) or less than 14 days before and after treatment with them. It is also dangerous to use clomipramine with other drugs that are active against the central nervous system. Fluoxetine and clomipramine should not be used concomitantly due to the risk of serotonin syndrome.
Any of the drugs must be taken daily, and patients need several months of treatment in order to get stable changes. Selegiline has been used in the treatment of fear-motivated separation behavioral disorders where a dog has experienced something frightening in the absence of the owner and as a result associates loneliness with fear. Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam may also be useful for rapid stress relief or short-term stress control. They can be applied as needed shortly after the wearer leaves. However, it should be noted that benzodiazepines may suppress learning abilities, generally require frequent use, may be addictive, and may lead to recovery of anxiety disorder upon discontinuation.
For effective treatment of separation anxiety in a dog, the treating veterinarian should be consulted every 7-14 days. This will allow, if necessary, to modify the treatment plan and dosage of drugs. Keeping a diary of observations will help the owner better see any changes that may result from a behavioral or medication intervention. Medication may need to be adjusted, enhanced, or supplemented.
Evaluation of treatment outcome
- The dog tends to follow the owner everywhere, spin around him and demand attention. A decrease in the intensity of such behavioral responses indicates that the animal feels calmer
- Reducing the intensity of the reaction to actions prior to the owner leaving the house
- The dog has the ability to remain calm when the owner is out of sight
Separation anxiety usually responds well to behavioral therapy, but there are exceptions. With the help of drug therapy, anxiety associated with the departure of the owner can be reduced, as well as affect the behavior of the animal in the presence of the owner, reduce the need for attention. However, medication alone will not produce long-term behavioral change. If the dog is not trained to behave properly at home in the absence of the owner, and if the predictive power of grooming signs is not reduced, the improvements can be very small. Some dogs may even show even more destructive behavior, vocalizations and continue to defecate in the house, further increasing the tension in the relationship between the animal and the person. Thus, the above methods of behavior modification play the most important role in treatment and should be applied first.
If the owner's "planned" absences continue to increase the animal's anxiety, the dog may become even more sensitive to them, and the problem behavior will increase. Also, the action of medications will slow down, and medications will need to be given daily, and not as needed.