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Separation Anxiety In Dogs and Cats.

What Is Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a behavioural response to being left alone. Without proper training, many dogs find being on their own a very stressful experience and will try to soothe themselves. Unfortunately, many of these behaviours are destructive or even self-harming. While it is less commonly seen in cats, they too can suffer from separation anxiety.

This state of heightened stress can be triggered by many things:

  • Being left alone
  • Change in routine or family dynamic
  • Loss of a family member
  • Being rehomed to new owners

Separation anxiety is often misjudged by owners as bad behaviour. However, it is one of the most common reasons for owners choosing to surrender or rehome their pets.

Dogs: Signs and Treatment

When it comes to signs of separation anxiety, every dog is different. Some may show obvious signs that they are suffering, while others may simply appear to be going through a mischievous phase. 

Key signs to look for include:
  • Whining, barking or howling
  • House trained dogs having accidents indoors
  • Destructive behaviours such as chewing and scratching
  • Sleeping more than usual or hiding
  • Pacing or other obsessive, repetitive actions
  • In severe cases, dogs may vomit and/or refuse food

A study from the University of Lincoln by animal behaviourists found that separation anxiety should be an "underlying reason and not a diagnosis". They found four primary forms of separation anxiety:

  1. Attempting to get away from something
  2. Wanting to get to something outdoors
  3. Reacting to external noises
  4. A form of boredom

Your dog may exhibit just one or two of these signs with varying degrees of severity. Dogs with a nervous personality may show several signs at once.

Treatment will vary between dogs depending on their overall temperament and the severity of their separation anxiety. For most dogs, a great way to encourage calm behaviours is to give them a Lickimat.

These mats are designed to be spread with food or treats and encourage your dog to focus on getting the treats. This slow, repetitive motion is naturally soothing and a perfect way to calm a stressed animal. You may also want to try puzzle toys like the Brain Game Wobbler. This is a wonderful way of engaging your dog and making them work out how to get to their treats. It keeps them occupied, relaxed and calm.

You can also offer your dog a cuddle buddy toy like Rosie the Rainbow Unicorn. Plush, cuddly toys are perfect nap time partners for nervous or anxious dogs, plus they make great toys for when your dog needs to let off a bit of steam.

If your dog is an anxious chewer, tug toys such as the Big Kahuna Tug toy are fabulous for allowing them to exercise their chewing urges but keeping them off your furniture. This tug toy is made from heavy-duty material for even the most determined chewers, along with padded canvas and strong seams. It is even machine washable and floats in water.

 

Cats: Signs and Treatment

Separation anxiety is common in domestic dogs, but what about our moggies? Cats have a reputation for being independent, but they are actually highly attuned to their owners and develop deep attachments.

 

A 2019 study published in Current Biology reported that 64% of cats in the experiment were categorized as being "securely attached" to their owners and showed a reduced stress response when they were near their owners.

Cats behave differently from dogs and have distinct signs of separation anxiety.

  1. Urinating and/or defecating outside of the litter box. This is generally the most common sign of a stressed or anxious cat.
  2. Being excessively noisy such as meowing or yowling more than expected.
  3. Excessive grooming may result in patches of hair loss.
  4. Destructive clawing, chewing or scratching
  5. Increased attention seeking

Data suggests that female cats are more likely to suffer from separation anxiety than male cats, as are cats that have no outdoor access. Since they spend most of the day with their owner, they are more likely to feel stressed whenever their owner leaves.

Kittens who are weaned too early, orphaned or bottle-fed are also prone to suffering separation anxiety, more so if they only have one caregiver.

Treating cats is most effective with enrichment. Giving them something to focus on or engage with helps lower their heart rate and releases endorphins that help keep the cat calm. Cats benefit from Lickimats just as much as dogs.

You don’t need to use these mats for treats. However, if your cat eats quickly, Lickimats are a great way to slow them down and reduce stress. Cats use their whiskers to navigate, and they are incredibly sensitive, so Lickimats are perfect for avoiding “whisker stress”.

Cats love having a place to go when they are feeling overwhelmed. This is where a cat bed will help. The Shark Cosy Cat Bed is ideal for anxious cats. It provides a sheltered, cosy space to relax while still allowing your cat to view his surroundings.

The bed has a non-slip bottom to prevent the bed from moving about, and the inner pillow can be removed for easy cleaning. Suppose your cat decides he is comfortable with a particular spot. In that case, the cat bed is lightweight and foldable, so you can relocate it anywhere.

The best part of the Shark Cosy Cat Bed? It comes with a free Sebastian the Shark teaser toy with a durable outer layer that promotes healthy teeth and is also great fun to play with!

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