Most pet owners consider their four-legged friends as members of the family. Owners tell funny stories to friends about their pets amusing antics. Some pet owners even celebrate the birthdays of their feline and canine companions. Like other family members, owners cuddle with pets, talk to them, nurse them when they are sick, and punish them when they do things that are against the rules. Yet, while most pets are well-behaved, many owners have come home to find things ripped to shreds by their dog or that their cat soiled a favorite comforter. As much as owners may react harshly by yelling at or otherwise punishing their furry friends, consider the likelihood that these pets are reacting out of boredom, loneliness, and separation anxiety.
The reality is that many pets are subject to boredom, loneliness and separation anxiety just as children are. Although it is difficult to rationalize the destruction of property, pet owners should be careful not to anthropomorphize (to ascribe human characteristics to things not human) pet behavior. It is essential to realize that animals need mental and physical stimulation to prevent boredom and loneliness. Pets enjoy the company of their fellow pack animals to alleviate loneliness, for example, and an owners patient and compassionate help in overcoming separation anxiety is critical.
Researchers and veterinarians are not really sure what causes separation anxiety in some pets and not in others. Lately, the theory is that some pets have experienced a traumatic separation experience and/or may be genetically predisposed to anxious behavior. Animals that are separated from their mothers too early, or have been in and out of animal shelters, appear to be prone to anxious behavior. It is easy to understand why these experiences may dispose pets to continuing anxiety about becoming separated from those to whom they have formed attachments. Pets are creatures of habit, just as humans are.
Many dogs know that it’s time for a walk when they see owners grab the leash. Cats salivate when tea is made. They react to the sound of the spoon hitting the side of the cup, expecting a dab of milk as a treat. And, most importantly to this discussion, pets know that they will soon be left alone when you begin to wrap up your morning routine and prepare to leave for the day.
You may have noticed that your happy go lucky dog or cool as a cucumber cat become agitated or tense as you brush your teeth or put your shoes on. This agitation becomes near panic as you reach for your keys and grab your coat. And the panic becomes aggravated when you leave the house. Perhaps the tension doesn’t begin until you open the closet door and reach for your coat. “How cute,” you think, “Rex wants to go outside.” Yet, candidly, dogs and cats know the difference between going for a walk and their owners abandoning them for the day. Your pet is asking to go with you; and, when you appear to be ignoring his needs, he becomes anxious at the thought that you are leaving and may never return.
Have you ever returned home to find that the kitchen cabinets have been opened and all of your dried, boxed food has been ripped open and strewn haphazardly on the floor? Even worse than the actual mess, you recall that you put your dog in the crate before you left for work. The door to the crate is still closed; but your pet is sitting in the middle of the living room floor, surrounded by what’s left of your shredded wedding photo album, innocently wagging his tail. The neighbors have started complaining that your pet has been barking and howling constantly and your door frames have been chewed to bits.