One out of every six dogs may suffer from canine separation anxiety. These dogs panic and suffer from anxiety when left alone. Often these dogs behave perfectly when family members are home yet appear guilty when family members come home. Separation anxiety may be seen in young dogs who never fully adapt to being separated from their owners, and in dogs with other anxiety disorders such as noise phobias; it can also develop after a change in the household or schedule.
Diagnosis and Clinical Signs
Diagnosis of separation anxiety typically includes one or more signs of destructiveness, excessive vocalization and house soiling. The hallmark of separation anxiety is that these signs occur immediately following departure and may be most dramatic following unexpected or unusual departures. If any of these undesirable behaviors occur when family members are with the dog, causes other than separation anxiety should first be ruled out. Evidence of destructive behaviors or house soiling would be obvious when family members return home but excessive vocalization, which ranges from whining to howling, may be not detected except when severe enough to disturb neighbors.
Destructive behaviors are generally associated with escape attempts or destruction near doors or windows where the family routinely exits. Destruction due to separation anxiety may be associated with personal items of specific family members, but getting into the trash or chewing house hold items may be related to boredom rather than separation anxiety. House soiling (urine and stool accidents) that is due to separation anxiety will occur shortly after people leave, and that should be distinguished from when it happens after long periods of time. Video monitoring is useful to characterize signs and severity of separation anxiety.
Additional signs supporting a diagnosis of separation anxiety are ones that begin when the owner prepares to depart; when the dog needs to be with someone at all times and follows people when the owners are at home; salivation; and little or no interest in food when the owner leaves.