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Separation anxiety affects pet owners too

It makes sense doesn’t it? Why wouldn’t you have the same feelings towards your beloved pets as you would with a fellow human? 

Strong emotional bonds are created between humans and animals, just as they are in human relationships. This is even more so with pet owners who spend more time with their pets than most - if you work from home, or you’re retired you’re naturally spending the majority of the day together. The emotional connection and routine interactions become integral to the well-being of your pets.

Separation anxiety occurs when you’re separated from a person or pet that you love and have come to rely on. 

How does that manifest itself?

Well, in humans, feelings of worry, mild distress or restlessness. You may start to overthink and imagine worst-case-scenarios. You might even experience physical symptoms such as headaches, shaking or hyperventilating. It could even result in you beginning to avoid work, school or holidays - any potential separation scenarios -  just to get around being apart.  

And in pets, a reduction in their sense of security can be profoundly felt and exhibited in nervous behaviour such as barking or howling, vomiting and pacing back and forth. In more extreme examples in can lead to chewing or tearing-up furniture and using the house as their toilet.

The good news is, there are some simple practices and routines to help reduce and alleviate separation anxiety for all parties.

For your dog: 

Try and reduce or desensitise the actions that your dog associates with you leaving - putting your shoes or coat on immediately before you go; picking up/jangling keys, going to the front door. Try doing all these things out of sight, or not leaving straight after you’ve put your shoes on. Maybe even open the front door and close it without leaving a couple of times so the association between the door opening and you leaving are reduced.

Avoid long goodbyes before you leave. Going from love and affection to absence is emotionally painful.

Invest in some puzzle toys - the ones that make your dog think a bit more and consume their mind with play rather than facing a quiet room until your return.

Practice time apart over longer periods of time. You don’t even have to leave the house - just be in separate rooms for 10 minutes at a time and gradually increase the time period.

Exercise is always key - for owners and pets. If you have time to walk your dog in the morning, a relieved and tired dog will have reduced the stress hormones that create feelings of anxiety.

For you: 

There are some technological offerings that can at least allow you to keep an eye on your dog while you’re away. Pet cameras and apps allow real-time check-ins where you can monitor and interact with your pets. Bear in mind, this can alleviate some anxiety, but can also heighten dependence.

Investigate doggy day-care options near you, or a less expensive pet sitter who can either stay for a few hours or make two or three pop-in visits to your home to make sure all is well. 

Acknowledging and addressing separation anxiety is crucial for maintaining a healthy balance in human-animal relationships and the overall well-being of both you and your pet. Early training and socialisation will also help your dog to understand and accept the difference between cuddle-time and time-apart.

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