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.

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.

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