Separation anxiety

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

Separation anxiety can be seen at the dog's palce of residence or at veterinary clinics.

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], amitriptyline, buspirone 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 behavior therapy, focused on conditioning the canine patient to associate unusual environments with positive reinforcing experiences[12].

Failure to treat can result in disruption of the human-animal bond and subsequent abandonment, relinquishment, or even euthanasia of the affected dog[13].


  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. Blackwell E et al (2006) Controlled trial of behavioural therapy for separation-related disorders in dogs. Vet Rec 158(16):551-554
  13. 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