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How to Deal With Pet Separation Anxiety

Does your cat or dog get into trouble when you’re away? Many people complain about how their cat or dog misbehaves when they’re away. More often than not, this is due to something known as separation anxiety. There are things you can do to relieve separation anxiety between you and your pet, and some of these tactics can sometimes resolve anxiety altogether. 

What is Separation Anxiety and What Causes it?

Separation anxiety is a form of anxiety that your pet experiences when they’re separated from their owner or family. The causes of pet separation anxiety are not very clear. There are many factors that can lead to anxiety in your pet. 

Some leading causes of separation anxiety: 

  • Rehoming 
  • Abandonment 
  • Schedule Changes
  • Environmental Changes
  • New Pet Additions
  • New Baby

This list only scratches the surface of what could be causing your pet to be anxious, but they are common causes. For example, many cats and dogs that have been adopted from a shelter have been rehomed many times. As you could imagine, many of these animals are all too familiar with abandonment. So, when they’re left at home alone, they develop anxiety and fear. Due to separation anxiety, many pets will do things like pee or poop in places they shouldn’t, damage furniture, or pace back and forth. 

How to Deal with Moderate Pet Separation Anxiety

When it comes to handling separation anxiety in your pet, there are tons of methods to try. As we run through each of these options, please keep in mind that it’s always best to consult a professional trainer


One tactic is called counterconditioning. This is a training method that will help your pet associate things that cause them anxiety or worry with good feelings. For example, let’s say you’re going to leave for an hour. Instead of just leaving your cat or dog in the house or kennel alone, provide them with a toy, food puzzle, or treats. 

Eventually, counterconditioning will train your pet to understand that being alone means they can expect something good, not bad. This is not something that happens overnight, especially if you have rescued an animal from a shelter who may have suffered trauma in the past. After years of neglect and abuse, you must proceed with patience and understanding throughout the process of counterconditioning. A key thing to remember when counterconditioning your pet: remove the reward when you’re present. If you do not remove the positive thing, they may not make the connection between your absence and the treat. 

Don’t Make Goodbyes a Big Deal

Whether you’re leaving your pet for a couple of hours or a whole day, don’t make it an event. If you’re about to leave, instead of being all ooey-gooey and using a loud voice, just calmly pet them and speak calmly. You can also try putting on your shoes outside or leaving your keys out of sight so your pet doesn’t recognize those two things as a signal of your departure. 

Use an Affirming Command

Similar to counterconditioning, if you can train your pet to correlate a command with a positive thing, separation anxiety will be reduced. Simply come up with a command (a word) that you say to your pet before you leave that lets them know you’ll be back soon. Over time, your pet will correlate you leaving and returning with that word.  

Exercise and Jobs

Giving your pet a job to do is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety. Take your dog on a 30-minute walk before leaving them alone or allow your cat to climb and play. Providing our pets with a wide variety of activities allows them to use their natural instincts and mental energy on these activities instead of worry. 

How to Deal with Severe Pet Separation Anxiety

If your pet is suffering from severe separation anxiety, you should use a combination of the tactics above and some gradual separation training. To start, you can train them to stay in a room while you are in another one. Over time, you may be able to stay away longer and longer without much issue. As we mentioned before, all animals are different, so if nothing seems to be working, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

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