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Separation Anxiety Can Send Pets into a Tailspin

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CARY — Working long hours can take its toll on you, your family, and even your pets. Dogs left home alone for long periods of time can suffer separation anxiety, a very serious disorder veterinarians are encountering more often than ever.

Many dogs will bark or whine when owners leave home. But temper tantrums turn into terribly destructive behavior in some animals. Veterinarians say the behavior is caused by separation anxiety.

"In that period of 8 to 12 hours when we're not there, all types of problems can build up in a dog," says Dr. Betsy Sigmon. "They're afraid you're not coming back. They're upset that you're late coming home."

And they express those fears in damaging ways.

Donnie Raines knew her golden retriever Sally had a problem two days after she got her home.

"We were just doing yard work and coming in and out and she had completely chewed off the bed skirt in our master bedroom," Raines says.

Raines has spent the past year treating Sally's disorder. The treatment has involved medication and constant behavior training.

"You start out with possibly, just -- what we did -- picking up your car keys and not leaving, several times a day," Raines says. "Maybe picking up your purse and going to the front door, but not leaving."

Some pet owners try other approaches. For Dennis Lewis's chow Holly, the answer is doggie day care.

"Medications and training didn't seem to really help her and this has," Lewis says.

Veterinarians say dog day care and pet-sitting services are options. But to truly correct separation anxiety, they say, a long-term commitment is key.

For Raines, that commitment is paying off. "She is doing great. We're really pleased with her progress. What we want is just a loving companion and we want her to be happy. And she is."

To help your dog overcome separation anxiety:
  • Try not to pay attention to the dog 20 to 30 minutes before you go out.
  • Leave the dog a special toy or treat, and take it away when you come home.
  • When you do come home, ignore your dog until he or she has calmed down.
  • Above all, do not reprimand your dog for something he or she did while you were away. Veterinarians say the animal will not make the connection, and the punishment will just make the anxiety worse.For specific advice about your animal, consult your veterinarian.
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    Laurie Clowers, Reporter
    Mark Copeland, Photographer
    Julie Moos, Web Editor

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