Signs of Separation Anxiety, Stress


Last week my husband and I did another wonderful pet sit while our senior girl (in photo) was in the loving hands of a family we adore through TH. At our new location we had briefly become acquainted with the dogs, chickens and cat before our arrival, in the company of their parents. They were well adjusted and we got the routine down…pretty straightforward, right? Not so fast. Once their humans departed, two of the pups were kinda sulky and didn’t touch their food for a round. The cat made an occasional appearance but would scoot off once we came near. Thankfully, the :chicken: :chicken: carried on and provided us with a daily bounty of fresh eggs.

Ironically at the same time, while we were away our girl Ellie was romping on the beach with kids. But even though she may have been tired, the astute parents noticed she also seemed a bit melancholy. It’s no one’s fault - it’s just being aware that changes in routine can disrupt animals’ comfort zones.

Remember the saying ‘creatures of habit’? I think it applies to all species, tho some are much more sensitive to it. Here are some other signs of separation anxiety for dogs, most of which occur in the absence of their parents:

Barking and Howling
A dog who has separation anxiety might bark or howl when left alone or when separated from his guardian. This kind of barking or howling is persistent and doesn’t seem to be triggered by anything except being left alone.

Chewing, Digging and Destruction
Some dogs with separation anxiety chew on objects, door frames or window sills, dig at doors and doorways, or destroy household objects when left alone or separated from their guardians. These behaviors can result in self-injury, such as broken teeth, scraped paws and damaged nails. I like to offer a stuffed KONG to keep them preoccupied. I fill it with a mix of peanut butter and cottage cheese, but you can use either/or. Then I freeze it to make the ‘enjoyment’ last a lot longer.

Escaping
A dog with separation anxiety might try to escape from an area where he’s confined when he’s left alone or separated from his guardian. The dog might attempt to dig and chew through doors or windows, which could result in self-injury, such as broken teeth, cut and scraped front paws and damaged nails.

Pacing
Some dogs walk or trot along a specific path in a fixed pattern when left alone or separated from their guardians. Some pacing dogs move around in circular patterns, while others walk back and forth in straight lines. Exercise - both mental and physical - are key to break the pattern.

And as happened with us, skipping meals can also be a sign of stress.

Of course we all know cats have their own set of rules and can be completely indifferent, too :smirk_cat: :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

Above all, it’s not you! And communication is key. We didn’t feel the need to alarm the parents because we’ve seen it happen before. We also ask the owners in advance how often they would like updates and what details they’d like us to provide, citing examples like these.

And back to our sit, once we settled in and peacefully showed the pets we were full of love (and food:), they came around to their regular routines and gave us a bundle of joy in return.

What stressors have you seen on sits? What solutions do you bring to experiences like these?

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We did one sit where the dog was a rescue and had been with the family less than a year. He seemed completely unperturbed about the family leaving, just sticking his head through the cat flap to watch them go, then coming straight over to us for a fuss.

He was used to sleeping on the owner’s bed, so we did the same. This must have been the point that he realised that something was different and that it wasn’t his regular humans in the bed! There were episodes of whining and barking through the night. Each time I spoke to him, stroked him, and when he settled laying alongside me (he seemed to need to be in contact with me) tried to leave my hand resting on him for a while. Eventually he settled and slept, and it only happened that one night.

When we first looked after our friend’s dog in our own home she ate a chunk out of our kitchen doorframe during the first night. After that we let her have access to the whole of the downstairs of the house and also the stairs and upstairs hallway/landing (where she wasn’t allowed at her own home at the time). She was much happier sleeping on the landing lying right against her bedroom door and there was no more chewing. My husband is very practical and the doorframe was easily fixed with a new piece of wood and some filler!

It’s so much easier when the dog is in their own familiar home and sleeping in the place they are used to.

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Thank you @KarenS for this valuable post. Thankfully I haven’t had the experiences you’ve mentioned. I will remember to come back to this post though, if I start stressing (not the pet) over similar situations.

I have had an escapee, who supposedly could not jump the fence. However, when she saw deer, she found new energy and went bounding off up the hill after them. For about 10 anxious minutes - which felt like an hour - we went from neighbour to neighbour (thankfully on a dead-end street), asking if she’d been sighted. Oh yes, we saw her chasing the deer. She came strolling back home, none too pleased that deer can outrun her. :roll_eyes:

It did make me realize that the tag on her collar was the owner’s phone number, who was on a transatlantic flight at the time. Had she been found by caring people, a phone call then wouldn’t have worked. I’ve heard of sitters who have collar tags with their phone number on it, which they use while on a sit. I thought it was a great idea, but have yet to do it. Put that one on my to-do list now, as I don’t want to tempt fate. :fearful:

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Animals are funny things. I was away for two weeks recently: a family member house-sat for the first week with a paid pet-sitter visiting twice a day to medicate my elderly rabbit (as family member was nervous) and then the pet-sitter house-sat for the second week.

My parrot refused to bathe whilst the pet-sitter was there! She normally bathes every four days or so, so by the time I got home she was very grubby :laughing: She’d been fine the first week with my family member.

Really not sure why she was so shy with one and not the other. Maybe because the pet-sitter was male. Maybe because my family member is very similar to me, or because they’d visited a couple of months before so were more familiar.

Of all the problems i planned for, parrot refusing to bath wasnt on the list!

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I have noticed with some cats that we have sat that they appear to be totally relaxed and going about their routines at the beginning of the sit. However after a couple of days we see by their behaviour that they were probably a little stressed at the beginning, just subtle little things when observing them.

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Wow! Great idea @Snowbird. I’ve not had an escapee yet, but having my phone number on their collar would be a great help in that situation. Thanks for the tip!

And I’m glad your pooch returned unharmed.

Last winter we stayed with three cats for a month. Two adults and one kitten. The pet parent warned us the kitten would probably hide under the bed for the first few days, and sure enough she did.

A few days after the sit ended we received a text from the homeowner, letting us know that the kitten was so discombobulated in the change-over from us to them that she hid under the bed for another few days until she got comfortable with them again :rofl:

Ch-ch-changes! :notes:

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@Karen-Moderator I searched yesterday and was surprised to see that I can order them on Amazon with engraving. There were lots of choices that would be workable for sitters.

That is good to know, thank you.

A collar tag with the sitter’s number is a wonderful idea. I could go to Pet Supermarket and have a tag made and attach it for the time the sitter is taking care of my dog. Thank you!

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Here’s another wonderful way to engage the dogs and dole out meals or treats. This maze was kindly provided by our recent pet sitters :heart_eyes:

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Very useful info thank you as I’m about to do my first sit next week with a dog that hasn’t been left before - what other advice would you give? I will always go with my gut feeling and am quite intuitive I believe with pets.

Yay! Love your sweet, SMART girl so much :two_hearts:

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@gilly When we sit dogs who are not used to being with new people, I always try to get as much info from the owner about their current routine to replicate it as closely as possible. I also ask for any insight to their love language & comforts :hugs: - toys; places they like to lounge or cuddle; if they get extra enjoyment from fetch, grooming, puzzles, treats & practicing tricks, etc. This way we can instantly start working to bond with them and make them feel comfortable. We have also found walking pups upon our arrival helps us both immediately find our balance and establish trust.

As for cats, we spend time doing a quiet activity near wherever they feel safe. Ex: if a cat hides under the bed, we will sit on the floor and read/color so they get used to our presence and learn we are safe. This is a trick we used with a lot of our foster rescues to socialize feral or anxious/shy cats. So far, all sits that owners have warned us we may never see their cats because they are so nervous around new people, have ended shocking their owners with them cuddling on our laps! :paw_prints: :black_heart:

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I’m on a sit with a lovely dog who’s not been left with a sitter before, and while he just seemed a little mopey when his owners left, in the middle of the first night he asked to be let out, and had diarrhea. I was warned he was a sensitive soul and my intuition leans immediately towards separation anxiety as his diet hasn’t altered in the half a day since the sit began… Any thoughts on how to calm a sad tummy and help reduce his anxiety overall? I’ll let his owner know but want to make sure his - and their - worries are assured.

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My cat used to overgroom when I first had sitters. There would be bald patches on his body, but they would quickly grow back when I returned.

After a year of housesitters (8 sits), he is much more comfortable with strangers and accepts them very quickly :heart_eyes_cat: