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Life can be ‘ruff’ for separated pets

By Lea Kopke
Press Times News Intern

GREEN BAY – When stay-at-home orders caused by COVID-19 were put in place, dogs everywhere rejoiced.

For the first time, their owners would be around to give belly rubs and throw toys throughout the day.

But, as people begin returning to everyday work routines, pets will once again be spending much of the day alone.

Though cats will likely be just fine, dogs may have a tougher time readjusting, according to a local veterinarian.

Brian Broekman, a veterinarian at Packerland Veterinary Center, said it’s possible some dogs may experience anxiety or stress due to isolation.

This is especially true, he said, for animals with a history of separation anxiety.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, common symptoms of separation anxiety in pets include urinating and defecating, barking and howling, destructive activities, escaping and pacing.

“Every animal is a little bit different,” Broekman said. “While some dogs are destructive and will try to break out of kennels or rooms, others might develop GI (gastrointestinal) issues, like a loss of appetite or soft stool. Some dogs shake, some will just be a little nervous.”

Broekman said he warns owners of reading too much into their pets’ actions and misinterpreting them as signs of anxiety or stress.

“Sometimes it’s not cut-and-dry,” he said. “We often humanize our pets. Sometimes owners will misinterpret what their pet is doing, and why they are doing it.”

Uwe Pott, an associate professor of biology at UW-Green Bay, said there are steps owners can take to try to ease separation anxiety.

Pott said owners should try to turn the negative experience of a dog being left into a positive one.

This can be done by leaving treats, such as a Kong toy filled with low-fat peanut butter for dogs, once owners leave the house.

Pott and Broekman both said they recommend owners do short trial runs to practice spending time away from their pets to see how they react.

“When owners know they will soon be out of the house for 8 hours, try going out for shorter periods of time,” Pott said. “Do this at the same time they would leave for work. Not changing right away, cold turkey, from being home all the time to being gone.”

If an owner finds his or her pet’s separation anxiety to be severe or persistent, he or she can call veterinarians to look into treatment options.

For more extreme cases, Pott said dogs can be put through a desensitization program or be put on anti-anxiety medication.

For less extreme cases, both Pott and Broekman said they recommend the use of pheromones.

“One of the natural products out there is Adaptyl, which is a pheromone that naturally releases endorphins when dogs smell it to help calm them down,” Broekman said. “On their first day back, owners can use either a pheromone collar or spray on their dogs.”

When attempting to help a dog with its separation anxiety, Pott said he stressed the importance of refraining from scolding or punishing a dog for related actions.

He said doing so will only cause the dog to be more afraid and could end up making the problem worse.

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