Separation anxiety

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Separation anxiety is a common behavior disorder of dogs due to breaking of social attachments with their group, usually due to veterinary treatment[1].

Separation anxiety appears to be more common in dogs unaccustomed to long periods of owner absence[2], in young dogs and those dogs in a one-person household. The separation anxiety appears to be paralleled in humans, particularly those closely bonded to their canine companion[3].

Dogs are social animals which have a strong inherent desire to interact with their social group including humans to which they have bonded[4].

As a consequence, separation-related behavioral signs are common when dogs are separated from or denied access to their bonded family, induced by emotions such as anxiety, fear, distress, frustration, and panic[5].

Clinically affected dogs may present with destructiveness, vocalization, inappropriate elimination[6], attempts to escape, pacing, trembling, depression, and self-mutilation[7]. In a veterinary clinical situation, separation anxiety can be compounded by existing diseases, which heighten fear states, as well as clinic noise and odor aversion[8].

In most acute patients, environmental enrichment, use of dog-appeasing pheromone and medical intervention with fluoxetine[9], acepromazine, diazepam[10] or clomipramine may suffice, but re-establishing contact with family members, particularly in dogs hospitalized in veterinary clinics is essential to minimize this condition[11].

Prevention is difficult but is aimed at conditioning the canine patient to associate unusual environments with positive reinforcing experiences.

Failure to treat can result in disruption of the human-animal bond and subsequent abandonment, relinquishment, or even euthanasia of the affected dog[12].


  1. Gácsi M et al (2013) Human analogue safe haven effect of the owner: behavioural and heart rate response to stressful social stimuli in dogs. PLoS One 8(3):e58475
  2. Müller CA et al (2012) Brief owner absence does not induce negative judgement bias in pet dogs. Anim Cogn 15(5):1031-1035
  3. Kwong MJ & Bartholomew K (2011) "Not just a dog": an attachment perspective on relationships with assistance dogs. Attach Hum Dev 13(5):421-436
  4. Wells DL (2004) A review of environmental enrichment for kenneled dog, Canis familiaris. Appl Anim Behav Sci 85:307–317
  5. Lindsay SR (2001) Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training. 1st ed. Vol. 2. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State Univ Press. pp:93–107
  6. Flannigan G & Dodman NH (2001) Risk factors and behaviors associated with separation anxiety in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 219:460–466
  7. Ghaffari MS et al (2007) Penile self-mutilation as an unusual sign of a separation-related problem in a crossbreed dog. J Small Anim Pract 48(11):651-653
  8. Sherman BL (2008) Separation anxiety in dogs. Compend Contin Educ Vet 30(1):27-42
  9. Simpson BS et al (2007) Effects of reconcile (fluoxetine) chewable tablets plus behavior management for canine separation anxiety. Vet Ther 8(1):18-31
  10. Herron ME et al (2008) Retrospective evaluation of the effects of diazepam in dogs with anxiety-related behavior problems. J Am Vet Med Assoc 233(9):1420-1424
  11. Kim YM et al (2010) Efficacy of dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) for ameliorating separation-related behavioral signs in hospitalized dogs. Can Vet J 51(4):380-384
  12. Sherman BL & Mills DS (2008) Canine anxieties and phobias: an update on separation anxiety and noise aversions. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 38(5):1081-1106