Ever been away from home for a day or a weekend or even a week, only to come home to find your house is a mess and your very guilty-looking dog hiding under a table or couch; or your extremely dignified cat glowering at you through narrow eyes where he/she slouches on the kitchen counter or dining-room table?
Why on earth would my normally well-behaved and lovable pet go berserk on my house, you may wonder. Before you go into a rage and attack your pet with verbal abuse and above-average voice volume, consider the reasons behind such abnormal behaviour.
Leave a child alone for a while and they may play quietly by themselves but it’s not unusual to find them drawing on the walls with pens or painting the furniture with their water paints. Why do they do this? Boredom? Probably. Pay-back for you leaving them alone? Maybe. A cry for attention? Possibly.
The simple fact of the matter is that many pets also suffer from the effects of boredom, loneliness and yes, separation anxiety. Dogs are quite probably more prone to the above than cats are since they are pack animals; finding it natural to be surrounded by their family. Cats, although tending towards being more solitary creatures, may also find they miss their human companion and feel deserted when you disappear every now and then.
At this point in time, animal behaviourists, researchers and vets can’t quite explain fully what causes the separation anxiety in some pets while not affecting others. The general consensus is that those animals that may have been separated from their mothers too early or have been given up for adoption or shipped to-and-from animal shelters may be more predisposed to separation anxiety – for obvious reasons. We must not forget that, just like humans, pets tend to be creatures of habit.
Your pets are aware of your behaviour before taking leave of the house. Most pets will end up accepting your daily routine of going to work and so tend to remain calm and relaxed throughout the day while you are away, knowing that you will return when the sun begins to set. Some animals may even know when you are going away for a few days. Ever notice your cat crawling into your suitcase while you’re trying to pack it? If you frequently go away for one or two days, your pet may even grow accustomed to this. However, should you not return after your usual two days, your furry friend could become anxious and stressed and start acting out by damaging your furniture; or simply chew on all your clothes and things that smell of you because they miss you so much.
While an animal trainer or behaviourist will usually be able to assist you with helping your pet get used to your routine of leaving the house and coming back again, there are certain instances where leaving your pet alone for too long can become hazardous to them. Normal behaviour in dogs is whining or whimpering and cats may meow consistently. Cats and dogs will constantly seek attention from you, putting their noses in the way of you getting ready. They may pace, shiver or roll over on the floor. These are all fairly harmless reactions to your imminent departure. However, some pets – particularly dogs – will start chewing on their paws or tails due to anxiety, much like some people chew their fingernails. Chewing and scratching on doors, windowsills and furniture could result in your pet injuring their gums and paws, causing bleeding and open wounds. Some pets even become depressed and some symptoms of depression in animals are anorexia or refusing to eat and vomiting. Some dogs will bark and cry continuously while cats may go to the toilet anywhere and everywhere in your house aside from the litter box. Cats may even groom themselves bald due to separation anxiety.
If you suspect your pet of suffering from loneliness, boredom or separation anxiety, your best bet is to talk to your vet, animal trainer, animal behaviourist or psychologist to ask for their help. They are specialists in their fields and will only offer the best information.
We strongly urge you not to punish your pets for their behaviour relating to you leaving them – even for a short time. It is imperative that you foster a relationship of trust with your pet at all times. Your pets are not trashing your house in revenge for you leaving them. They are doing it because they are terrified that you will not be coming back. Their destructive behaviour is a direct result of their anxiety over possible abandonment by you.
Let them know how much they are loved by keeping them healthy, fit and clean and give them the attention and exercise they need. If you are going away for an extended amount of time, please try to get a house-sitter/pet-sitter to stay with your pets or at least visit them every day. A kennel or cattery should be a last option. Love your pet enough to care!
Article by: Delaney Carpenter, Rogz Reporter