Separation Anxiety
WSAVA 2002 Congress
Moses Heiblum, DVM Cert
Private practice in small animal behavior problems
Jardines de San Mateo, México


#1 canine anxiety disorder seen in behavior practices; Potential for great financial cost; Most common in mixed breed dogs from shelters


Emotional state in animals; the subjective state of fear is presumed to exist; exhibit specific behavior, e.g., avoidance, crying signals that are typically associated with these behaviors. Normal behavior can be adaptive. Small dog who was attacked by big dog. Determine normality or abnormality by context


 Fear reactions that are persistent, consistent, not adaptive, dog that is afraid of the phone ringing

Degrees of Phobia

 Intense: Hysteria, catatonia, panic

 Mild: Anxiety

What is Separation Anxiety?

 General symptoms:

 Inappropriate behaviors during owner absence

 Often done within first 30 min.

 Fear of separation from owner

 May see in younger and older dogs

 Change in schedule

Role of Attachment?

 Assumption: Dogs with separation anxiety are hyperattached to their owners

 Attachment: Emotional bond

 Attachment Behaviors: Maintain spatial closeness

 Vocalizations, maintaining proximity to owners, trying to follow owner through doors/windows

Dog Attachment Study

 Separation anxiety questionnaire

 Attachment test

 30 min. home videotape


 Previous history?

 What behaviors exhibited?

 When behaviors exhibited?

 When behaviors started?

 Behaviors follow patterns?

 What does dog do when:

 Owner prepares to leave?

 Owner comes home?

 While owner is away?

 What has been done to correct the problem?


 Occurs during owner absence:

 Excessive vocalization

 Inappropriate elimination



 Other Symptoms


 GI upset

 Lack of activity ("depression")

 Severe cases: Dogs will show symptoms while owner is in another room of house, or asleep


 Before owner leaves:


 Look anxious/"depressed"

 Ears back

 Head lowered




 Follow owner around

 Refuse to enter crate

 Prevent owner from leaving


 When owner returns home

 Excessive greeting behavior

 Long time to calm down

 "Velcro dogs"

Behavioral Rule-Outs

 Excessive Vocalization

 External stimuli

 Garbage truck

 Dog barking

 Neurological disorder

Behavioral Rule-Outs

 Inappropriate elimination

 Medical problems

 Incomplete housetraining

 Loss of housetraining

 Urine marking

 Management issues

 Acute fear response

 Arousal-related response

Behavioral Rule-Outs




 External stimuli

 Acute fear response

 No appropriate objects to chew

 Barrier frustration

Degree of Separation Anxiety

 Separation anxiety is not all-or-nothing

 Continuum of fear

 Some dogs may have "anxieties" while others may have stronger "phobias"

Learning and Separation Anxiety

 Separation anxiety itself is based on fear

 Learning involved as well

 Classical conditioning of emotional responses to pre-departure cues

 Keys, briefcase, security system, coat

 Classical conditioning of emotional responses during owner's return

Classical Conditioning:

 Pre-Departure Cues

Misuse of Punishment

 Many owners punish their dogs after they arrive home

 Delayed punishment not effective


 Clinical test to diagnose separation anxiety?

 Leaving dog alone in room does not seem to be diagnostic

 Degree of whining may be indicator of separation anxiety if severity of behaviors is considered

Treatment: General Outline

 Environmental modification

 Behavior modification

 Extinction of pre-departure cues

 Graduated departures with safety cue

 Pharmacological therapy

Treatment: Environmental Modification

 Keep dog crated or confined if can be done safely

 Start with door open

 Reward whenever inside

 Close door for gradually increasing amounts of time; reward when calm

 Release from crate only when calm

 Hide toys/treats inside

Treatment: Environmental Modification

 Restrict access to items being destroyed

 Rotate toys to maintain interest

 Interactive toys

Treatment: Behavior Modification

 During departures

 Downplay event

 During returns

 Ignore dog until completely calm

 Redirect into a "sit"

 Relaxation training

 Independence training

Treatment: Behavior Modification

 Extinction of pre-departure cues

Treatment: Behavior Modification

 Graduated Departures using Safety Cue

 Safety Cue: Signal that tells dog that owner will return soon

 Visual: flag, sign, blanket

 Auditory: bell, whistle

 Olfactory: potpourri spray

 Owner acts as though leaving for work

 Leave dog in place that owner would like dog to be able to stay when alone

Graduated Departures

 Dog does not need to be completely calm when performing exercise

 Warning! If use safety cue during actual departure, will lose efficacy

 Determine how long dog can stay alone without showing full-blown symptoms (e.g., 30 sec)

 Act as though going to work

 Give safety signal and walk out for 30 sec

 Return, remove signal (if visual), and allow dog to calm fully

 Repeat at least 10 times

 Dog should be calm upon departure and return

Treatment: Pharmacological

 Clomipramine HCl (ClomicalmTM)

 Tricyclic antidepressant

 FDA-approved for separation anxiety in dogs

 Extra-label medications with anxiolytic effects

 e.g., Fluoxetine, Amitriptyline

Get Another Dog?

 Another dog may solve problem

 Since appears to be related to owner leaving, may not work

Remind Owners: In The Meantime...

 What to do with dog until treatment starts working?

 Crating/confining (if safe)

 Pet sitter

 Doggie day care


 Take to work


 Will depend on:


 Duration of problem

 Compliance of owners

Case Report: NICKY


 5-year-old Fem German shepherd


 Mónica and Raúl

 Complaints: panic when owners left house, destructive when uncrated

 When crated: defecated/urinated, moves crate/ trying to escape, barked, hypersalivated, chewed paws, exhausted

 Previous history

 Obtained at 7 weeks from breeder

 Onset of behaviors

 Around 6 months of age when female owner started new job

 Previous treatments


 Acepromazine (discontinued)

 Crate training


 Separation anxiety

 Treatment (Separation Anxiety)

 Independence training

 Extinguish reaction to pre-departure cues

 Gradual departures using safety cues

 Alprazolam 1 tablet 0.25 mg before owner leaves and Clomipramine 1 tablet 25mg q 12h / 2 weeks


 2 weeks: Departures with safety cue (potpourri spray)

 Recommendation: decrease Alprazolam dosage to ½ tablet when owner leaves continue with Clomipramine 2 tablets 25mg q 12h

 1 month: Owner had been out of town. Therapy program discontinued.

 2 months: Graduated departures with safety cue, independence training Alprazolam- Clomipramine

 3 months: Decrease Alprazolam dose to every other day and continue with Clomipramine as is. Continue independence exercises

 4 months: Suspend Alprazolam continue with Clomipramine

 4.5 months: Decrease Clomipramine to 25mg q 12 h and gradually taper Clomipramine treatment until suspended

 Continue behavior modification treatment

 5 months: Owners were satisfied with treatment

Final messages

 Severe separation anxiety cases can be resolved

 May take a while

 Client complicity is essential

 Minor relapses are possible-don't be discouraged!

Speaker Information
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Mois├ęs Heiblum, DVM Cert
Private practice in small animal behavior problems
Jardines de San Mateo, México

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