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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Ask the Vet: Dogs and Separation Anxiety

by Mark Nunez, DVM
© All Things Dog Blog
Happily Enjoying Crate Time
 is Healthy for Your Dog
My  rescue dog has been with me since she was quite young. Living alone, I wonder if she has become too attached to me. When visiting family she displays a need to remain at my side most of the time and whines if I leave the room and she cannot join me. I had crate trained her as a puppy but have been advised she would do well to maintain that love of her crate, even though she does not require it now for any reason. 

Because I am elderly I find myself beginning to think about what will happen to my little one when she is left without me. Are there any health concerns I should worry about regarding separation anxiety? I suppose I will look for training assistance for her growing anxiety but also want to know if there is anything I can do to prevent physical illness or depression as a result of my absence. Thank you for your assistance.

L. Johanson
Hello Mrs. Johanson,

If your dog has separation anxiety, I would recommend treatment for that as soon as possible.  Basically, what is happening in the mind of a dog with separation anxiety is that they are having panic attacks while the owner is not present.  This can result in all the same issues that chronic stress can have on people, including immunosuppression (which leaves them open for infections) and stress colitis.  

I agree with the advice for crate training and maintaining her love for the crate.  Many dogs with separation anxiety do not know what to do with themselves while the owner is gone.  If they associate the crate with rest and relaxation, it can help decrease anxiety.  However, crating alone is NOT the only method needed.  The separation anxiety should be addressed.  

The good news is that dogs live in the moment.  It often us humans that prevent that by inadvertently reinforcing the very behaviors we do not want.  When the time comes for your dog to live in another home, it will be the responsibility of the new owners to not reinforce anxiety and/or depression.  In the mean time, treating any separation anxiety that exists at the moment  will help your dog to relax and not panic in your temporary absence. 

Dr. Mark
© courtesy m.n.
Dr. Nunez
Dr. Nunez is a practicing veterinarian while also assisting patients through The Balanced Canine blog and his own online veterinary pharmacyHave a question for Dr. Mark? Send it to You can also follow Mark on Twitter.

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Thundershirt said...

Separation anxiety in dogs is something that has become a big issue for dogs and their owners. This can cause a lot of stress and can be very painful for dogs. We have had a lot of great discussions about dog anxiety on our Facebook page and have received a lot of great tips. We would like to invite you to check out some of the advice on our page or feel free to join in the conversation on our page. Happy reading:)

Lisa looking for a kennel said...

I understand your concerns L. Johanson. My dog feels comfortable in her crate but does not need it. I'm happy that she enjoys it, but my only worry is that she barks when I'm away and I live in an apartment. Hoping she gets better soon!
Thanks for the advice

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