Diagnosis and Clinical Signs of Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety occurs in animals who love their owners too much!  The animal suffers a panic attack whenever it is separated from its human or animal family.  Although this may occur in any pet, it is most common in those who were adopted from a shelter or rescued from an abusive situation.  I see the condition most often in dogs.

The clinical signs of separation anxiety include:  1)  Howling, whining and/or barking when separated from family.  There is a hint of desperation in the cries.  2)  Profuse drooling to the point that puddles may form.  3)  Accidents, either urine or feces in an otherwise, well housebroken pet.  4)  Damage to inanimate objects.  Usually the damage is directed at the exits to the home.  Scratched doors, ripped carpeting and chewed-up door molding is common.  Less often, the animal might destroy items it associates with people such as pillows and clothing. 

During the state of panic, the animal might hurt themself.  Paw injuries such as broken toes, ripped nails and lacerated pads are common.  I have also seen fractured teeth, tongue lacerations and splinters lodge in the mouth and paws.  Thankfully, these kind of injuries mainly occur in severe cases.

When the family returns, they find the pet lying amidst the destruction.  It is in a state of exhaustion.  Unfortunately, we humans often misinterpret the situation.  We mistakenly think the pet was playing or trying to get revenge.  Some scream at the pet while others might use physical discipline.  Both make the pet even more anxious about being separated from its family.  Sadly, the behavior only  escalates when punishment is used to correct it.  Separation Anxiety is a mental illness and thus requires thoughtful, patient and slow reprogramming.  Punishment is counterproductive.

Is It Safe For Dogs To Ride With Their Head Out The Window?

On January 23, 2009, The Arizona Republic published an article that concerns me.  It suggests that it is safe for dogs to ride with their head out of the car window.  The author is a dog trainer named Mark Siebel who offers the following advice, 

“Lower the rear windows only enough so the dog’s head can stick out, and then lock the power window controls to restrict the windows from accidentally lowering or raising.”  

Each year, many dogs suffer eye injuries from riding with their head out the window.  I have treated several in my career.  Small pieces of road debris or bugs hit their eyes.  Conjuctivits and corneal abrasions are the most common injury.   At high speeds, these particles may cause severe damage.  I had one patient actually rupture their eye when it was struck by a small pebble!  In addition to eyes injuries, some dogs inhale pieces of plant matter that lodge in their nasal passages.  These patients can require a flush under anesthesia to remove the foreign body.

As humans, it is our duty to protect the animals in our care.  Of course they want to ride with their head out the window and take in all the wonderful scents.  But, we have to be the ones to set boundaries.  Please do not let your pet ride with their head out the window.  It is a risky behavior, whether the window is locked or not.

Siebel, Mark “Safety paramount in road trip with dog” The Arizona Republic, January 23, 2009 

You Make The Diagnosis: Dog Destroyed Carpet In Owners Absence

This case is about my own dog, a young German Shepard mix that I rescued last spring.  Buddy is a timid boy.  He is afraid of men, especially if they are dressed in a suite and tie with a brief case in hand.  When I am home, Buddy follows me from room to room.  He never leaves my side.   

A few days before Christmas, I left Buddy in his crate for a few hours while I finished Christmas shopping.  When I returned, Buddy greeted me at the door.  He had broken out of his crate and ripped-up the carpeting in front of the bedroom doors.  He tore a nail in the process.  Blood from a torn nail and saliva were visible in his crate, the doors and what was left of the carpeting.   Take a look at the photo and answer the following questions:  Name the condition Buddy suffers from?  What caused it?


Diagnosis:  Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is common in animals who are adopted from shelters or rescued from abusive situations.  The animal panics whenever it is separated from human family members.  They love their people so much, they do not want to lose them.  Buddy exhibited three of the four common signs of this problem; He whined and howled when I left the house without him, he drooled excessively and he destroyed anything that stood in the way of him following me.  Some dogs may also urinate and defecate.  I wish I had been more cognizant of the warning signs at an earlier stage.

To treat Buddy, I replaced his plastic crate with a larger, wire one.  I placed it in a new room and started a new departure/entry routine.  I also started him on clomipramine to calm him down while we work through behavior modification techniques.  Lastly, I increased his exercise.  In the last two weeks, Buddy has made remarkable progress.  He no longer whines or howls when I leave.  I hope to taper him off of the clomipramine in a few months. 

My Cat Doesn’t Cover In The Litter Box

Why doesn’t my cat cover their feces and/or urine in the litter box?  This is one of the most common questions people ask me when they find out I am a veterinarian.  Some people think their cat was taken away from its mother too young and never learned how.  Others think it is a sign of a mental illness or a cat that is trying to get back at their owners.  Are any of these theories correct?  The answer is no.  In feline elimination behavior, covering and not covering are both considered “normal”.  

So why do some cats cover while others do not?  In my opinion, the behavior is related to dominance.  Dominant cats do not cover their urine or feces because they want other cats to smell their scent.  They are sending a message to all who enter; “This is my territory.”  After the box is cleaned, they need to hop right in and leave a little something to mark it again. 

Submissive cats are on the opposite end of the spectrum.  They do not want other cats to know they are present.  Some cats are so submissive that they will cover for other cats in the household.  It is vital for these cats to have multiple litter boxes placed in ‘safe’ areas that provide easy access and a route of escape.

In a multiple cat household, litter box habits may change if the dominant cat is removed or new cats are added.  I have seen submissive cats move up the dominance ladder and stop covering.  This is especially true when kittens grow into mature cats.  I have also seen a dominant cat start to cover again when he developed osteoarthritis in his spine.  He stopped covering again once his owners started giving him medication for the pain. 

Canine Labor: When To Call The Vet

Here are my rules for knowing when your female dog (bitch) needs help with the delivery of her puppies.  These are general rules that apply to all breeds.  Please consult your veterinarian for additional breed-specific guidelines.  Also,  get a pre-whelping x-ray.  It will tell you how many puppies to expect and if any are too large for a vaginal delivery.

1)  The bitch has been pregnant for over 72 days from the breeding date. 
2)  More than 24 hours have passed since her temperature drop without any signs of labor.
3)  The female has been in stage one labor for 8 hours or longer without progressing to stage two.
4)  Twenty minutes of active, hard labor without a puppy born.
5)  A dark greenish to brown vaginal discharge (lochia) without a puppy born within fifteen minutes.  (Some veterinarians use one hour as the cut-off instead of fifteen minutes.  I use a shorter time frame to allow you to get help before the puppy dies.)
6)  Four hours between puppy births with no straining.
7)  Puppy stuck in the pelvic canal.
8)  If you feel something is wrong, never hesitate to get help!  Your veterinarian can check the fetal heart rates for distress with an ultrasound and take action if needed.  As a veterinarian, I would much rather check and make sure everything is progressing normally, than wait and lose a puppy. 

For a description of the stages of labor see the blog post “Normal Stages Of Whelping In Dogs”.

Source:  Freshman, Joni.  “Canine Dystocia Management”, Western Veterinary Conference Proceedings 2002. 

Normal Stages of Whelping In Dogs


In normal canine parturition, the female (bitch) goes through three specific stages of labor.  Prior to its onset, her body temperature will drop a few degrees.  (The normal body temperature for dogs is 100.0 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.)  Labor should start within twenty-four hours of the temperature drop.  In stage one, the mother-to-be is restless.  She pants and paces.  The poor girl just can’t get comfortable.  During this phase her cervix is dilating.  She is having small contractions that are not visible.  Some first time moms will looks at their sides as if to ask “What’s going on?”  

Once contractions are visible, the bitch is in stage two labor.  Puppies are usually born after ten to fifteen minutes of active straining.  They may come out head or tail first.  Either is fine.  Watch closely to see if a placenta (the sac around the pup) is delivered with each pup.  Some females will try to eat this which I do not recommend.  I have seen intestinal obstructions develop from this. 

During stage three labor, any retained placentas are delivered.  Watch closely to make sure this happens.  A retained placenta may cause a life-threatening infection.  Seek medical attention right away if you suspect this occurred.

For further information on whelping please see my upcoming blog post “Canine Labor:  When To Call The Vet”.