Diagnosing separation anxiety
The diagnosis involves collecting historical information about the pet that reveals hyper-attachment to the owner, anxiety
at the time of the owner's departure and owner-absent behavior problems for which other medical and behavioral causes have
been ruled out.
The medical workup
An important initial step is the medical work up. Each pet should receive a thorough physical exam. Depending upon the specific
behaviors the individual is exhibiting and the physical exam findings, a full neurologic exam, chemistry panel, CBC, thyroid
evaluation, fecal exam and/or urinalysis may need to be performed.
The typical home situation in which separation anxiety problem develops is one in which the relationship between the pet and
the owner is extremely close. When the owner is home, the pet may continuously keep the owner within eyesight or may constantly
stay at the owner's side. A prime candidate for this type of problem is the dog with a slightly anxious temperament that successfully
solicits attention from the owner whenever it wants, and is very sensitive to environmental changes.
As the owner prepares to leave, the pet usually shows salient signs of anxiety including increased activity (restlessness,
pacing, whining), depression (withdraws, reluctant to move, "downcast" look, refuses to take treats) or physiologic changes
(panting, tachycardia, hypersalivation, vomiting). These occur in response to recognizable departure cues, such as picking
up car keys, putting on a coat, picking up a brief case, etc.
During the owner's absence, the dog may exhibit a wide range of behaviors including chewing, scratching, housesoiling and
vocalizing. The targets of the destructive behavior are usually areas around windows or doorways where the owner leaves the
home, or items that bear the owner's odor. The problems may occur every time the owner leaves or only after specific absences.
For example, the pet may be fine when the owner leaves for work each day, but becomes distressed and destructive during absences
of the owner in the evening.
When the owner returns, the dog usually exhibits exaggerated greeting behaviors.