Separation Anxiety

You've likely been spending lots of time at home during the pandemic, and no doubt your dog has enjoyed this quality time with you. If like many, you've welcomed a new furry family member into your home during this period, they'll be very used to having you around most of the time. This poses a challenge for our pets when they start spending more time alone. Some dogs may take these new changes to their routine fine. But for other pets, it could bring about separation anxiety, which can be very distressing for dogs and owners alike.

Separation anxiety is one of the most common yet most underdiagnosed behavioural problems in dogs. The clinical signs of excessive barking, howling, destruction, self-mutilation, urination, and defecation can significantly affect both dogs and owners. Luckily, veterinarians understand separation anxiety, and there are treatment options available to manage this condition and improve the quality of life for your special furry family member.

Separation anxiety is distress experienced on separation from you as the owner(s). Anxiety is the "anticipation of future danger or misfortune" – Dr K Seksel. Dogs are social animals, and it is normal for a puppy to become attached to their litter and then subsequently to the human family that becomes their home.

Some dogs do not adjust to being without their owners and develop separation distress. Some dogs may become destructive or vocalise if under-stimulated and not provided with the appropriate physical exercise and mental stimulation. However, signs of separation anxiety become apparent when they are linked to the owner's departures or absence, when they cannot gain access to them and when they cannot adjust to their absences over time. These dogs are anxious and are not "acting out" or trying to spite their owners; they are having a difficult time and need help.

Pay attention to your dog's behaviour before you leave the house. Some possible signs to look for are:

• Signs of distress, especially when your dog sees cues that you are leaving like picking up keys, putting on shoes or applying make-up
• Following you around unusually
• Pacing
• Try desperately to go with you
• Reacting to noises unusually
• House soiling
• Panting and drooling
• Freezing
• Barking
• Scratching
• Other signs of distress

Some possible signs of separation anxiety while you're away from your dog include coming home to:

• Digging in the garden
• Destructive behaviours around the house
• Trying to escape
• Reports from neighbours of repetitive barking, whining or howling
• House soiling

If you notice any of these signs of separation anxiety, please speak to your veterinarian. Depending on the case, they may refer you to a veterinarian with further qualifications in behaviour or a veterinary behaviour specialist. Go prepared for your Vet consult with a thorough understanding of your dog's history, routine, and any changes to their routine that could be causing the anxiety.

Things your Vet may recommend to address your pet's separation anxiety:

• The use of calming pheromones, like Adaptil diffusers, sprays or collars
• Encouraging independence through positive reinforcement exercises
• Creating a structured and predictable routine for your dog
• Make departures and arrivals low-key (calmly speaking to your dog, but not ignoring them completely)
• Offering your dog food puzzles, long-lasting chews, and feeding devices to give your dog something to enjoy while you're away
• A focus on physical exercise and mental stimulation – a tired dog will be more likely to relax while when you're gone
• Desensitisation and counterconditioning to cues that hint you are leaving the home
• Enriching their environment – leave the radio on to make the house feel less quiet and empty. Make sure they have access to their favourite bed and toys.
• Medication or supplements to address the underlying anxiety

It is essential that a puppy or dog can cope with being left alone. In our busy lives, it's unrealistic to be with them 24/7, so separation anxiety needs to be addressed with your veterinarian. It may be a journey to help your distressed friend to find comfort on their own, but there are options available to help. If you suspect your pet may be suffering from separation anxiety, please give your local vet a call.


The Joys of Owning a Cat

According to the Australian Veterinary Associate, almost a quarter of Australian households have a cat – more than 2.5 million in total. Whether you’re a young family, a professional, retiree or teenager, a cat can make a fabulous pet.

So what are the benefits of owning a cat?

Physical benefits

  • Better cardiovascular health. Cats can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and even cholesterol.
  • Improved general health. Data shows that cat owners make fewer trips to doctor.

Social benefits

  • Companionship. Cats can be great companions, particularly for young children, the elderly and people who live alone.
  • Improved mental health. Cat owners suffer from less depression and are able to cope with grief, stress and loss better than non-cat owners. Just by looking at you cat, you can increase the amount of Oxytocin in the brain – the “feel good” chemical that improves general feelings of wellbeing.

Benefits for Kids

  • Allergy resistance. Exposure to cats early in infancy is known to strengthen a child’s immune system and reduce the risk of allergies in adulthood.
  • Increased responsibility. Children who have cats, particularly those who are actively involved in feeding and grooming their cats, learn great skills in taking on responsibility.
  • Emotional development. Developing love and affection for a cat is known to improve children’s self-esteem, autonomy and empathy for others.
  • Social Development. Children and teenagers who own cats interact better with classmates, have better self esteem and report less loneliness. They are also less restless than their non-cat owning friends.

INTRODUCING A NEW KITTEN INTO THE HOME.

Kittens can make wonderful pets. They’re playful, tenacious and very inquisitive. Like any animal, they have their quirks and it can take them a little while to adjust to their new home. Here are five tips to make you’re kitten’s arrival into your family as smooth as possible.

Vaccinate and Desex

Before bringing your kitten home, it’s important he or she receives relevant health checks, flea treatment, vaccinations and desexing. You will also need to schedule a few booster vaccinations in their first year.

Kitten-proof the house.

To properly kitten-proof the house, you need to think like a kitten!

  • Find all small spaces a kitten might get into and fill the gaps with a block of wood or a towel
  • Remove poisonous plants such as lilies
  • Keeps cupboards closed and toilet lids down
  • Remove immediate dangers such as electrical cords.

 Prioritise food, comfort and warmth!

  • Kittens need extra protein for muscle and tissue development, fat for fatty acids and plenty of calories to keep up with their active lifestyle.
  • Cats are very clean animals and will instinctively want to bury their waste. It’s important their litter tray is separate from their living area and that it’s cleaned daily.
  • Mirror the kitten’s litter environment by creating a warm and safe home. Whether it’s a cat bed or a cardboard box with a blanket, your cat needs a place that's free from damp, draft and noise.

Take it slowly

Keep your kitten inside for at least two weeks, slowly introducing him or her to different rooms of the house. Introduce family members slowly too and when you do finally venture outside, start with short supervised stints in a contained area.

Keep playtime safe

Kittens love to climb, so anything that’s upright and slightly wobbly are immediate hazards. They also love to chew, so try and remove all things they could potentially choke on, like milk rings, cotton reels and bottle caps.

Safety Note

It’s recommended that children under five don’t interact with kittens. If you have school-aged children, teach them early about the kitten’s happy/angry signs (e.g. purring versus wagging tail).