We understand that some pets have a more difficult time than others adjusting to the routines of everyday life and are here to help you reduce or eliminate unwanted behaviors. Two of the most common unwanted behaviors are separation anxiety in dogs and inappropriate elimination in cats.
Signs of separation anxiety include pacing and whining, howling, destructive chewing, ripping up or digging at household items, panting, drooling, defecating or urinating. There are several factors that can contribute to separation anxiety. First, adopted dogs from a rescue or shelter or dogs transferred to a new home are overwhelmed with new people, places, and routines. Pet parents who take their puppies or adult dogs with them everywhere they go don’t provide enough “alone time” for their canine family member to learn it’s ok to be by themselves. Changes in family composition and schedules such as a new baby, college-age children leaving for school, or divorce can create more stress and lead to separation anxiety. Finally, a fearful event such as thunderstorms, fireworks or construction in or around the house when your dog is home alone can increase the chance they will be anxious the next time they are alone in the home.
How can you tell if Fido is experiencing separation anxiety if nothing in your home is damaged or there aren’t any puddles or piles that need to be cleaned up when you get home? Ask a neighbor if they hear your dog bark or howl or scratch at doors or windows. Leave your house with a spouse or friend and have them drive off without you as you stay out of sight and scent, listening for any of the telltale sounds dogs with separation anxiety will make.
If your dog experiences any of the separation anxiety signs noted above, you can help them feel more comfortable in a number of ways:
- Properly introduce your puppy to a crate and provide quiet times for it to be alone.
- Include other household members in your dog’s care, play, and feeding so s/he doesn’t rely on one person for all of its social needs.
- Offer your dog a favorite chew toy or a treat-filled Kong to redirect his or her energy as you prepare to and after you depart.
- Leave the house when your dog seems most relaxed and return after a brief period of time before anxiety levels escalate and repeat as often as is practical.
- Treat leaving and returning to the home as a routine occurrence and wait until your dog has relaxed after you return to lavish it with affection.
- And, although drugs aren’t THE answer, they may be part of a treatment plan for separation anxiety in a behavior modification program.
Inappropriate elimination includes urination, defecation or spraying outside of the litter box and is the most common unwanted behavior in adult cats. There are numerous reasons for a cat not to use the litter box or spray outside the box such as an undiagnosed medical condition, stress, number, location and cleanliness of litter boxes, and litter preference.
A cat that sprays outside of the litter box is often socially stressed, either by a cat it sees outdoors or due to conflicts with one or more cats in the household, or isn’t neutered or spayed. Cats are creatures of habit and the slightest change in routine can cause stress or anxiety so keep food and water bowls and litter boxes in the same place. Products that contain pheromones (naturally produced chemicals used to communicate with animals of the same species) like Feliway have a calming effect and can also reduce your cat’s anxiety. Finally, spaying or neutering your cat not only helps prevent unwanted litters, but can also reduce the desire to spray by 90% in male cats and 95% in female cats.
Kidney or liver disease, diabetes, vision loss, inflammatory bowel disease, and feline lower urinary tract disease are just a few of the medical conditions that can result in inappropriate urination or defecation. A complete exam by one of our veterinarians, including diagnostic blood work and urinalysis, will help determine if your cat’s unwanted litter box habits are medically related. If there is an underlying medical condition, we’ll determine which medication(s) may be curative or need to be used on a long-term basis.
If your cat’s inappropriate elimination is not medically related, there are several ways you can help Fluffy use the litter box more reliably. In a multiple cat household, the number of litter boxes and their locations and cleanliness are of the utmost importance. We typically recommend one litter box more than the number of cats in your household so a two cat household should have three litter boxes in different locations. Experiment with cat litters as they come in a variety of sizes, textures and fragrances and not all cats will have the same preference. Frequent litter box cleaning is also important, especially in a multiple cat household.
Separation anxiety and inappropriate elimination are frustrating issues for pet families to deal with. It’s important to identify what’s causing these behaviors so, if medically necessary, they can be treated. Our doctors and veterinary care team members are just a phone call away at 630-598-0600 to help make sure everything possible is being done to reduce these common unwanted behaviors.