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Michael Dym, V.M.D.
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Michael Dym, V.M.D.
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Dr. Michael Dym
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From Our Holistic Vet: A Holistic Perspective On Alleviating Separation Anxiety

As business returns to normal following 1+ years of being in varying degrees of lockdown, there is one subset of the population that may be more stressed about us leaving our homes and returning to the work place and those are our animal companions. Separation anxiety may be a problem seen in some pets. When a dog exhibits extreme stress from the time you leave him alone until you return, that can be categorized as separation anxiety. There are a variety of symptoms that dogs may express and may include any or multiple of the following: excessive vocalization or howling; anxious behaviors such as pacing, trembling or whining as guardians prepare to leave the home; excessive drooling, panting or salivating; destructive behaviors, especially around windows or doors; and excessive attempts to escape confinement, which may result in significant injury. With sudden life changes, such as a returning to the work place, may act as a trigger to many of these disturbing behaviors.

We can do our best to address the dog’s underlying anxiety by teaching the dog to hopefully tolerate being left alone, and maybe even at some point, enjoy being alone. Many clients with dogs who suffer from separation anxiety find that crate training can be quite helpful in alleviating separation anxiety by associating the crate with happy things like various toys so that he or she are happy to be inside. Crate training is not for every dog, as other dogs may panic, but it is worth a try in many anxious canine companions. Practicing what animal behaviorists call graduated departures by leaving him or her for increasing amounts of time is another technique that is quite effective in alleviating anxiety. We start by leaving animals for short periods of time, and gradually build up the lengths of time once we are sure that they tolerate the shorter periods of time. Bringing out a special treat or reward that is only used for important lessons and rewards may be quite helpful here, especially if the animal goes into high stress mode on even getting ready to leave. Desensitizing to the usual cues of getting the car keys or one’s coat can be used to couple with another activity like making dinner, instead of leaving, may help with more positive associations and thus lessen the excessive anxiety when you are leaving for work. Another tip on preventing separation anxiety is in giving your canine companion plenty of exercise daily, which may help with the pet settling down when you leave. Finally, discouraging overly clingy behavior by training your dog to sit/stay for extended periods of time until you can actually leave the room is also quite helpful when you finally do leave the home. Also try not to overly embrace your dog when leaving or coming from the home, which may often contribute to overly anxious behavior when returning to work.

While conventional sedative treatments are certainly available should training techniques not be adequate, there are several holistic tools that may help alleviate some of the symptoms of separation anxiety. The homeopathic remedy Boiron Aconitum Napellus 30C when given in 30C potency when getting ready to leave may help with the sudden fright experienced by many animals, as well as the Bach Flower essences such as Rescue remedy and the essences Aspen and/or Mimulus. For more chronic cases of separation anxiety, some homeopaths have found the remedies Boiron Arsenicum Album 30C and Boiron Phosphorus 30C helpful in select cases, but that determination is best made by an experienced homeopath. The amino acid L-theanine and the supplement GABA also may help calm some anxious canines, as well as herbs such as Valerian and Kava in select cases.

Dr. Michael Dym, VMD