Veterinary experts share their best advice on keeping your furry friends cool and calm while you're away.

By Caroline Biggs
March 06, 2020

Ask any pet parent and they'll say the same: Nothing's worse than dealing with a dog or cat with separation anxiety. "Pet separation anxiety is a behavioral problem that occurs when a pet is left alone or separated from a significant person," explains Dr. Sharon L. Campbell, DVM at Zoetis. "It can lead to destructiveness—think chewed pillows and knocked over vases—restlessness, and other signs of stress, such as distressed barking and hyper salivation."

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And while not all pets experience separation anxiety, Dr. Campbell says the ones that do are often misunderstood. "Separation anxiety is a medical issue—not something that a pet will simply outgrow or can be trained to not do," she says. "A lot of people try to project behavior onto a dog by assuming they're bored or angry, but dogs don't experience those emotions the same way humans do. They act out because of fear, anxiety, and stress." Not sure what to do to appease your four-legged family member's anxiety while you're away? We asked Dr. Campbell for advice on easing pet separation anxiety, and here's what she had to say.

Related: These Are Important Things to Look for When Hiring a Pet Sitter

Talk to your veterinarian.

Like any other medical issue, Dr. Campbell says the first and most important step in treating pet separation anxiety is getting a formal diagnosis from your veterinarian. "Certain symptoms of anxiety can be confused for other medical issues, so a diagnosis is essential for proper, individualized treatment," she says. "The best way for a vet to be able to diagnose separation anxiety is video-taping your pet while you're away so they can distinguish behaviors and observe them in their environment."

Reduce sound triggers.

If your pet experiences separation anxiety, chances are they're provoked by certain sounds and noises that alert them to your departure. "Whether it's jingling keys or the garage door opening, anything that indicates that you're about to leave can trigger the anxiety," Dr. Campbell says. "Minimize nerve-wracking noises—put keys in your coat pocket the night before or park your car in the driveway—to keep them calm before you go."

Don't make a big deal about coming and going.

While it's only natural to shower your four-legged friends with affection before you take off for the day, Dr. Campbell says it might be making their separation anxiety worse in the long run. "Emotions run high when you leave and come home, so try not to make either an event," she says. "The goal is to avoid extreme highs and lows, so don't be overly enthusiastic about your arrival or departure." 

Distract them when you're leaving.

A good distraction can go a long way when you're leaving an anxious pet in the morning. "Frozen treats and food puzzles are a great way to divert your dog's attention from your departure," Dr. Campbell says. "Keep them busy with a treat—not your exit—and you'll be gone before they realize."

Don't forget about doggy daycare.

When all else fails, Dr. Campbell says you can always count on day-boarding or a local dog day care program to keep both of your anxiety levels down throughout the day. "Pet separation anxiety is stressful for humans, too." she says. "Boarding your pet during the day ensures you won't come home to a mess to clean up or complaints from neighbors about barking."

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