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The Problem Of Separation Anxiety Disorder In Canines

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According to the ASPCA roughly 3.3 million dogs are left at an animal shelter each year and approximately 46% are due to pet problems. Pet problems were defined as problematic behaviors, aggressive behaviors, pets that grew larger than expected, or health problems owner couldn’t handle.

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As a general rule dogs are a very social species, and this will lead to a strong attachment to their owners. They grow attached to their humans which is a natural part of their socialization to function as a family unit in the wild. Social animals engage in distress responses when separated from their companions. Distress crying and increased activity (even hyperactivity) are normal canine responses to separation from an attachment figure. While normally dogs will grow out of these tendencies becoming accustomed to being left alone for normal periods of time; such as the daily departure of their owner(s) to work, school, or other activities, not all do. This leads to some animals showing signs of what we know to be separation anxiety.

It has been estimated that separation-related problems compromise about 20-40 percent of case loads of behavior consultants in the United States, with a incidence as high as 70% in some practices.

Separation anxiety also known as separation stress can cause animals to have destructive behaviors. This behavioral disorder can express itself in many problematic behaviors, ranging from destructiveness (usually directed at entry/exit points of the home or things that smell strongly of the owners) to inappropriate elimination. The important part in narrowing this down to a definitive diagnosis is if the behaviors are occurring when the animal is separated from its attachment figure. Regardless of what you call it; there is a strain placed on the human-animal bond when a pet parent has to deal with such a disorder in their pet. Separation anxiety is a frustrating disorder but fortunately it can be managed, treated, and even cured from many patients. In this paper I hope to shed some light on identifying and correcting the problem for many pet parents.

A full work up should be performed on any patient presented for behavioral problem, this allows the veterinarian to rule out any underlying causes and assist the owner and patient to resume their normal daily lives.

Many times, pets can be aided through separation anxiety with help from the pet parent by building up their safety and reducing the dependency on the pet parent. These treatment options can be as simple as working with a trainer or on their own through counter-conditioning and desensitization methods. In more difficult cases pharmacologic agents such as anxietolytic medications may be necessary to facilitate treatment.

10 Jun 2021

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