Is your dog clingy? Does he whine or cry when you leave the house? Do you come home to find torn-up curtains? Are there deep scratches on your doors? If so, your dog may have separation anxiety.

It is often difficult to determine the cause of separation anxiety. Some pets are genetically predisposed, but there are many other causes, such as poor socialization, past neglect or abandonment, and changes in routine, to name a few.

When left alone, these dogs may show subtle signs, such as whining or loss of appetite, or they may develop destructive or even self-injurious behaviors, such as urinating in the house, destroying furniture, obsessively licking or chewing their bodies, or jumping out of windows.

Dogs with separation anxiety are often unfairly labeled as “bad” or thought to be spiteful, but they are actually suffering from uncontrollable fear, akin to panic attacks in humans, and scolding them will only make the problem worse.

Suzanne Hetts, PhD., a certified applied animal behaviorist in Littleton, Colo., said, “True separation anxiety problems don’t have quick fixes.”

But most pets can and should be helped.

According to Stefanie Schwartz, DVM, director of behavior services at VCA South Shore Animal Hospital in Massachusetts, even pets with mild separation anxiety experience real emotional distress and deserve relief.

If you think your pet may have this disorder, make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss the symptoms and possible treatments.

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