Separation anxiety in older dogs – How to help – Part II.

Frozen filled Kong

Following on from Part I of our Holidays4Dogs article about separation anxiety in the aging dog, this section will look at the best ways to deal with the issue and how to help the dog who suddenly finds it difficult being left home alone.

Even if a dog has been previously confident and happy to be left alone for a few hours; when he moves into middle or old age it is not unusual for him to demonstrate anxious behaviour.  I can relate to that too!  As I am middle aged myself, I understand and sympathise that new anxieties about life one previously never thought about, can come to the fore as years pass.

Just like people, older dogs become less keen on change and find a greater comfort in routine and habit.  Changes to this can cause a dog to feel clingier, less confident and display more anxious behaviours.

Anxiety could be related to any number of factors, but commonly it could be due to Canine Dysfunction Syndrome which is similar to Alzheimer’s seen in people.  It could be that the dog is not feeling well or he may be in discomfort – perhaps suffering from arthritis or some other underlying health problem that causes him to take comfort from being near his owners and becoming distressed if left alone.

Older dogs find it harder to deal with difficult situations and a bad experience for an older dog may have more effect than it might do with a puppy or younger dog, who may be able to bounce back more quickly.  A traumatic trip to the vet, a fight with another dog or a huge firework display may upset the older dog in more marked ways.

The dulling of senses may also be another reason for a dog developing separation anxiety.  If he cannot hear, see or smell as well as he used to, an older dog may develop a greater dependency on his owner.

As well as degeneration of the organs in the body in older dogs, an aging dog will produce much lower levels of hormones that help him deal with stress; another factor for the possible development of anxiety in his middle to elderly years.

Treating separation anxiety in older dogs.

If you are concerned that there may be an underlying health reason why your dog has become anxious, it is important to obtain veterinary advice to rule out any medical conditions that may be causing this.

Otherwise, there are many ways that you can approach the problem and hopefully manage the situation; but with some dogs it may not be possible to completely eradicate it altogether.

Maintaining a structured routine will help the older dog to stay calm since he will appreciate life being predictable and this, in turn, will help to keep stress levels down.

Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise – just because he is getting on in years doesn’t mean that he won’t appreciate regular exercise.  While keeping a routine at home is good – when out walking, try to vary your routes to keep your dog engaged and interested in his surroundings.

As well as physical exercise, older dogs also need continued mental exercise.  Keeping the brain active in middle to old age is good for dogs as well as people and you can definitely teach an old dog new tricks!  Nose work, obedience training or even agility, (while taking into account your dog’s physical capabilities), will all help to stimulate your dog’s brain and reduce stress.

When you do leave your dog; make sure you leave him with a comfortable bed, (perhaps consider letting him have an old piece of clothing that smells strongly of you).

Frozen meat

Always give your dog something to occupy him while he is home alone – such as a stuffed Kong or other suitable chew toy.  Freezing a stuffed Kong will mean your dog will have to work harder to extract the contents and since chewing and licking is comforting for a dog, this will help him to stay calm and distract him from becoming anxious. Make sure you have a good supply of things to leave him with when you have to go out.

Consider leaving the radio or television on when you go out – talking programmes are better than music – Radio 4 perhaps, or a suitable TV programme.

You can also try plug in pheromone adapters which emit the scent of a nursing female and are said to have a calming effect. You can read more about these in another of our other Holidays4Dogs article.

Another suggestion is to supplement your dog with Omega 3 oil as research suggests this can improve a dog’s anxiety by 40 – 50% and is especially good for dogs suffering with onset doggy dementia. You can purchase high quality canine vitamin supplements, including doggy Omega from Cytoplan here;

Separation anxiety in older dogs can be frustrating but it is important to be patient and stay calm yourself as your dog will take his cues from your behaviour.  If your dog is not as confident as he was before, he is nevertheless the same dog he has always been and he needs you to help him make his senior years as comfortable and as stress free as possible.

Please note: This article does not replace professional veterinary or nutritional advice and is intended as a guide only.  If you are at all concerned about your pet’s physical or mental state, contact your vet straight away.