Does your pet have separation anxiety? Here’s how to help them

A veterinarian shares signs, symptoms and solutions.
October 14, 2021 11:38 a.m. EST
Cute adorable red-haired pet dog looking into window. Domestic animal poodle goldenhoodle terrier waiting expecting owner friend human. Loneliness solitude friendship concept Cute adorable red-haired pet dog looking into window. Domestic animal poodle goldenhoodle terrier waiting expecting owner friend human. Loneliness solitude friendship concept

The pandemic has affected so many of the important relationships in our lives, including those with our pets. From being together 24/7 to now, for a lot of people, spending more time apart.

This sudden spike in alone time can lead to separation anxiety in our furry friends. Dr. Rebecca Greenstein breaks down ways to guide pet parents through some of the signs, symptoms and solutions in the video clip above, and keep reading to find some of the products she mentions.

Lonlieness vs. separation anxiety

Loneliness and separation anxiety can be two sides of the same coin, but loneliness has more of a boredom connotation to it. Part of looking out for our pets’ welfare is providing not just the basics like food, water, and shelter, but also social engagement and mental stimulation. Pre-pandemic, we all knew office workaholics who had no choice but to leave their beloved pets for more than eight hours at a time. If those pets didn’t receive enough exercise or mental stimulation like toys or treat balls or puzzle mats or drop-in’s from a pet sitter or dog walker, it puts them at risk of OCD-like behaviours, excessive barking, overeating, problematic relationships with family members, and destructive tendencies…not too dissimilar to us!

Signs and symptoms of separation anxiety 

Separation anxiety can manifest in a number of familiar (and surprising) ways:

  • Prolonged or excessive vocalization (whining, crying, howling), pacing, or panting
  • Some pets will poop or pee in inappropriate places, which owners may misinterpret as their pets being ‘mad’ at them.
  • Anxious pets may show obsessive or compulsive behaviours like excessive self-grooming, aggression towards dogs and/or humans, and destructive behaviours, to name a few.

These behaviours can be triggered by being left home alone, but for some highly attached pets, anxiety can be set off by something as minor as an owner leaving the room or joining a Zoom call.


First, pet parents need to take an honest inventory of where things are at in the household. Are they inadvertently encouraging hyper-attachment behaviours by keeping their animals within sneezing distance of them for the entire day? Or calling out to them when they were in the next room chewing on a treat on their own?

Most owners don’t realize that a lot of their own behaviours that seem innocent and loving enough are actually teaching pets that they aren’t going to be okay if their human isn’t around, and that’s what’s driving this crushing anxiety.

Don’t make a big production out of comings and goings. One of the greatest joys of having a pet is the excited greeting they give when ‘human returns!’, but we don’t really want to teach our pets that you leaving or arriving is something remarkable, because it opens the door to anxiety when you grab your keys or put on your coat.

You can also try to desensitize your cat or dog to departure cues by jingling your keys or putting on your shoes a few times a day without actually leaving the house.

Be conscious about timelines

This process takes a lot of time, patience, and persistence. For example, leaving your dog in a new crate for the first time for hours alone isn’t something you should ever try in such a sudden drastic way; it could actually make things so much worse.

Introduce independent time into your pet’s life from the get-go. For pandemic puppies, even if the whole family is home all day, encouraging them to think of their crate as a safe, secure space is key. Start with just a few minutes a day and gradually increase the amount of time they spend quietly in there, rewarding them with praise or treats.

For some pets, it builds confidence to play with a toy or treat ball a little bit out of your line of sight. By playing happily in the next room or down the hall, we’re trying to show them they can enjoy themselves without sitting directly beside or on top of you.

If anxious behaviour is escalating or causing harm or distress to the pet or family members, it’s time to talk to your vet who can come up with a multimodal strategy tailored to your individual pet.

Products that help

There are specially designed articles of clothing that are snug-fitting and hug them to provide a feeling of calm and comfort. They come in t-shirt, sweater and jacket form and certain patients show a good response to products like this.

Get the products:

Thundershirt for cats | Thundershirt for dogs


There is documented efficacy for pheromones in the form of a diffuser, spray or collar for both dogs and cats (called DAP/dog appeasing pheromone and FAP/feline appeasing pheromone). It’s a synthetic scent hormone similar to that produced by lactating dog and cat moms.


Supplements such as melatonin and L-theanine have also been used anecdotally, but always consult your vet first before starting ANY supplement or product, to make sure they’re appropriate and safe for your pet.


You may have heard about prescription veterinary calming diets that also contain casein-derived ingredients as well as L-tryptophan to help manage anxious pets.

Smart pet products

There are some new smart pet products getting a lot of attention these days. Things like smart crates and heartbeat toys, for example, that borrow from scientific principles of soothing white noise. While we don’t yet have any evidence-based research to tell us just how helpful they are and for which pets, they could be another useful tool in our toolkit.

Get the products: 

Zencrate | Smart Pet Love Snuggle Puppy