Separation anxiety is a condition caused by a dog’s fear of being alone. Very sadly it is the second leading cause of owners relinquishing dogs to dog pounds or euthanizing their dogs. While the behaviors caused by separation anxiety are problematic, they are also treatable with the right natural approach.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
Dogs with separation anxiety exhibit distress in the form of behavior problems when left alone. Typically, they will have a dramatic anxiety response within a short time after their owners leave them.
Common distress symptoms include one or more of the following:
- Scratching and digging near doors and windows in an attempt to escape and find their owner
- Destructive behavior, chewing door frames or other items in an attempt to channel their anxiety
- Barking, whining and howling in an attempt to summon their owner
- Excessive salivation, chewing on or licking themselves
- In extreme cases, sometimes even urination and defecation can result from the immense physiological effect of prolonged stress [/unordered_list]
What Causes Separation Anxiety?
Dogs are pack animals by nature. In the wild, dogs are hardly, if ever, alone. This is the reason why they get nervous when they are left alone and many dogs will suffer from this anxiety when they are separated from the people within the family that they perceive as their pack! While the main cause of separation anxiety is being left alone, there are numerous other causes, including changes in routine, breeding instincts and loud noises or other things that jolt the senses.
Separation anxiety can develop in dogs who:
- Have previously not spent much time alone
- Have been abandoned at key points in their psychological development
- Who were not properly integrated into their first home, perhaps confined to a small space without enough social interaction
- Who were removed from mother and littermates too early (prior to 8 weeks of age) or too late (after 14 weeks)
- Who have endured a traumatic event, such as a frightening experience at a shelter or kennel, or a significant change in their household, such as a new person joining the family, a move to another house, or change in the owner’s work schedule
- Some dogs tend to become extremely attached to their new person, and then feel insecure when that person leaves. This might be a result of losing a previous home and person to which he was attached. [/unordered_list]
Managing Separation Anxiety: Helping Your Dog Naturally
- Play some music. Choose classical music, calming or easy listening, since the idea is to help calm your dog. News radio can sometimes work, but not if there are talk shows with debates or loud, anxious, excited hosts and guests.
- Record normal household sounds and play the recording for comfort. Put on a continuous-play recording of your voice calmly reading a magazine. Occasionally play the tape when you are home so dog does not associate the recording only with your departure.
- Try leaving a worn item of our clothing you wear as your smell can bring comfort to your dog.
- Being aware of your dog’s diet can help: a lot of problems can occur when fed poor quality food and a change to an all natural diet without any artificial ingredients can be hugely beneficial.
- Walk, play with and exercise your dog before leaving.
- Feed your dog twice per day to avoid any mood swings that can result from low blood sugar. Try feeding the biggest meal of the day before you go out as your dog will feel more content and sleepy after a good walk and a satisfying meal. [/unordered_list]
Homeopathic and Herbal Remedies
Pulsatilla nigicans (Pasque-flower)
This is one of the most common homeopathic medicines given for separation anxiety and should be given in the 6c or 30c. Can be given orally direct into your dog’s mouth or added to the dog’s water throughout the day. The leading signs with the Pulsatilla dog are clingy, fears being alone, fear of abandonment and becomes very fearful and emotional when left alone. They desire companionship and become very agitated and anxious causing them severe distress.
Calcarea phosphorica (Calcium Phosphate)
This is another beneficial remedy used in separation anxiety and best used used in the 6c or 30c potency. Dogs needing this remedy can be destructive, chewing furniture and other things in the house. They require endless love and companionship and get very upset on their own. Calc phos types are also terrified of thunder and will shake and tremble while in company during a storm or similar event, but without company they are likely to bolt during a storm and disappear for several days.
Gelsemium (Yellow Jasmine)
Animals requiring Gelsemium are often referred to as “the trembler.” With Yellow Jasmine there is quivering, which can range from a muscle group to the entire body, both inside and out. It is the remedy for anticipatory anxiety and is often used for separation anxiety. The dog can be so worked up it can have diarrhea or involuntary urination when under extreme stress of being alone. It can be given in the 6c or 30c potency either orally into the mouth or in your dog’s water.
Passiflora (Passion flower)
Calming anti-convulsant. Quiets the entire nervous system. Swift acting and non-addictive. Can be given in tincture form added to daily water.
Scutellaria (Skullcap) and Valerian
These are wonderful herbal medicines for the symptomatic relief of anxiety and nervousness. They are invaluable to calm and relax dogs suffering from symptoms associated with separation anxiety.
Avena Sativa (Oatstraw)
An anxiolytic producing a sense of calm, similar to Valerian, Passiflora and Scutellaria. Can be added to your dog’s water. Comes in tincture and homeopathic pellets.
Chamomila (German chamomile)
While Roman chamomile and German chamomile have slightly different medicinal qualities, in general they both treat anxiety in the same manner. Chamomile is a potent sedative used to reduce anxiety in stressed animals. It has the added advantages of calming your dog’s belly and helping him sleep. Some pets enjoy chamomile tea as much as we humans do. Or you can soak a small treat in the tea and give it to them. It is available in capsule/tablet and tincture forms as well.
A traditional herb used in Polynesian ceremonies, kava kava reduces anxiety, relaxes tension (including muscle tension), and calms restlessness without loss of mental sharpness. Kava kava is a good herb of choice for a tense, nervous or anxious dog. It is available in capsule, tincture, ground and powdered forms. The ground and powdered forms can be made into a tea and added to the daily water or sprinkled onto food.
These are the most common natural remedies used today for separation anxiety and have been used successfully for many years. Today there are many toxic drugs on the market that claim to help your dog but most have side effects which can cause further problems to your dog’s health. William Osler quoted great words of wisdom, referring to orthodox medicine: “The person who takes medicine must recover twice, once from the disease and once from the medicine”