Watch as Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder, speaks with Kristen Levine, Pet Living Blog Founder, about why pets might exhibit more separation anxiety in coming months due to many people working from home during COVID-19 and what you can do to help your pets (and yourself) out.
This video is part of the Pet Voices LIVE series. CLICK HERE to see the full schedule of videos.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 0:02
Hello and welcome to today’s topic, which is going to be all about separation anxiety and managing an anxious pet because if you’re like me and you love your animals, you’re worried about that as we’re all starting to get out of the house more and go back to work. It’s been different for them. So I’m so excited today that on Pet Voices LIVE we will be talking about separation anxiety.
I am your host Chloe DiVita. And I have with me today, the lovely Kristen Levine, who is a pet industry entrepreneur, marketer, and founder of the Pet Living Blog. So check it out. I know she’s got a lot of resources there and we will share some here too, but what we want you to know is that among the key issues that she’s passionate about, it’s helping pets overcome fear and anxiety, and stress which led her to create Pet Anxiety Awareness Month. And it’s celebrated annually in June. So we’re definitely going to talk about that. Thank you so much, Kristen.
I want to start with just this is a passion, right? It’s something to go as far as to create this month. Something led you here. I want to know, what was the impetus behind all of this that got Kristin Levine, Pet Expert, to be so passionate about pet separation anxiety?
Kristen Levine, Pet Lifestyle Expert – 1:11
Sure, Chloe. And thanks so much for having me here on All Pet Voices. And this is a great topic, especially for the time we’re in. My story is really just that I had this experience with my dog, Buck, who I adopted. This is a previous dog. He’s no longer with us, but I adopted him, I think, in like ‘97 or something like that and had him for 13 years. And he had all kinds of quirks and among his quirks, which wasn’t really a quirk, was that he developed separation anxiety. He also had other anxieties like noise anxiety and he had some other orthopedic issues. He kind of had every problem a dog can have. But he was really my soul dog. Do you know you have that? You love all your dogs and cats, but you have that one animal that’s just really binding.
Well, he and I are just like soulmates, and probably when he was about seven or eight I started noticing that he was very nervous and anxious and didn’t want me to leave the house and would try to come with me. Long story short, and then we’re going to get into the details, but his separation anxiety got so severe that we could not leave him alone. And if we had to leave him alone, we had to knock him out with medication. And the times that we did leave him alone, he would literally eat into the drywall and the molding by the door where we exited. I have this picture, I don’t like to show people, because it looks like it’s from a horror movie. But you know, you can just see blood coming down the wall. I mean, he was terrified.
And obviously, this is really upsetting for a pet parent. Right? You know, you want nothing more than to help your animal and you don’t know how. And really my experience with Buck is what led me to learn about veterinary behaviorists, what they do, why they’re important, and when they’re important. And I think the most memorable conversation I ever had with a veterinary behaviorist, she told me that Buck was having a panic attack. And he was literally terrified for his life. And then that just stuck with me and ever since she told me that probably going back 12-13 years now, I couldn’t get that out of my head. And so, I just knew all along after that I wanted to do something to help other pet parents, dog owners, in particular, experiencing this kind of thing to help them because I know it’s really common, unfortunately.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 3:59
Yeah, I was sharing with you before we got on that my greyhound, I got her over here Twiggy, my little… She’s not little anymore actually, she’s 13 and a half. She has separation anxiety and had it young. And it took a lot. I think that’s one of the things I want to talk about is just like anybody out there who’s suffering from this, it’s a mix of this frustration that you feel because you can’t just fix it. And this sadness because you want to just help and it’s not an easy thing. So you’ve worked with so many behaviorists and you’ve done so much research on this for so long now, for people who are like, “Oh, this is me, this is something I’m worried about especially now.” What is a tip or a step or what’s a good starting place for them?
THE SIGNS OF SEPARATION ANXIETY
Kristen Levine, Pet Lifestyle Expert – 4:48
Sure. Well, I would say that if you recognize… Let’s just talk briefly about the signs. If you already suspect your dog may have separation anxiety or if your dog, when you leave, is he or she howling or whining or barking or trying to come with you? And do they just seem kind of really nervous? They don’t want you to leave. Do they have accidents when you’re gone and they’re housebroken? Or do they become destructive? If you’re seeing any of those signs in your dog, he or she may have separation anxiety. And so I always say the first step is really to talk to your veterinarian because you want to make sure to rule out any medical issues in anxious dogs.
And if you catch it early, or at least before it’s at a severe point… By the time it’s severe, you know what the problem is, right? And you caught it so early with Twiggy and she had it at such a young age, which is pretty common for dogs who have been adopted. And there are things that you can do earlier on, such as behavior modification, or a tip would be to not make such a big deal about coming home. Because we all know how excited our dogs are when we come home. It’s like you’ve been gone for years and you just went to the mailbox. So kind of downplay that big celebration when you come in.
Some of the other things you can do, which I know you did, Chloe, and you found to be successful over time was going through the motions of leaving, picking up the car keys, or putting on your shoes. Our dogs are so smart. They pick up on every single clue. And I swear my dog knows just by what I’m wearing if I’m leaving. I don’t even have to get to the shoes, right? So what you can do is you can start that process like you are going to be leaving, but not actually leave. Or you can leave for a very short period of time, maybe just a couple of minutes, and come back.
It really depends on where your dog is at when considering what may or may not work. So, I think that’s why it’s important to talk to your vet first. And then if you’re concerned that your dog is starting to develop separation anxiety to an extent that you’re going to need professional assistance, you can get referred to a veterinary behaviorist or you could find one on your own online. And these are veterinarians who have, who have spent additional studies and internships focused on the behavior of animals, and they’re very uniquely qualified to help us with how to treat anxiety in dogs and cats.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 7:35
And I think they’re very special too because part of being a behaviorist in this way means helping us with our behavior. Because I know that was the hard part for me when I was working with Twiggy and she was rather young. It was just basically there when I got her so it didn’t develop. It just was there like “Oh, this is new” and it was hard because it was about me being consistent with what I was doing to break her of the triggers. That’s what we call them. The triggers that she saw me put on my shoes.
Still to this day, I have another dog who does not have separation anxiety and he knows if I take certain steps in the morning to get ready that I’m leaving and I’ll come out and he’ll be waiting in his crate because he knows that that’s where he’s supposed to go. He’s okay because he doesn’t have issues like that. But with Twiggy that’s why I had to do a lot of that and I think what was hard is it can feel like two steps forward, one step backward, two steps forward, one step backward. And that frustration trying to help an anxious pet.
Right now we have a story here from Alana, about her dog having it as a pup and now at 15 she’s lost her hearing, and so it’s back again. And so she’s barking when she’s alone. She wants to sleep in bed with her, she paces the bed, and it’s keeping her awake. And she’s feeling really frustrated with “I don’t know what to do.” So do you have any recommendations for… I feel like this is where I’m at right now. I felt like I worked with Twiggy, and she was better. And now that I’ve been home for so long, I just know it’s going to change. It’s coming again. So I’ve got to start thinking now about what to do to prepare for that. What are those tips for somebody in that situation? How to ease dog anxiety?
TIPS FOR DEALING WITH SEPARATION ANXIETY
Kristen Levine, Pet Lifestyle Expert – 9:17
Right. Well, so there are a few different things you can try. Certainly, the behavior modification tips, which as you alluded to, it’s really all you. You have to stick to the plan and be consistent for it to ultimately work.
But there are also a lot of really great calming products on the market that could be beneficial and a lot of them are ones that veterinarians recommend. Thundershirt is typically used for noise anxiety, but Buck actually wore a wrap that made him calmer when we would leave.
So I would say and actually, this is why I created Pet Anxiety Awareness Month to explain to people how there are so many different types of solutions. You really just have to start experimenting. So I would say it’s a layered approach. It’s behavior modification. And it’s also trying calming supplements, trying soothing music. There’s classical music that is composed specifically to calm an anxious pet. Crate training. A lot of us have crates. We have dogs, so a lot of us already had crates, I know Twiggy does not like the crate. And a lot of dogs don’t but I’ve had dogs that would go to their crate when they were nervous. So I think just start exploring and talking to other pet owners whose dogs also have separation anxiety to find out what works for them.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 10:49
And I think you just brought up a good point because it doesn’t show up the same in every dog. Or even every cat. I know we’re talking about that a little bit. And it can happen in cats too. These tips also apply to those wondering how to calm a cat with anxiety. And I think that how it shows up like you’re as the one that’s with them all the time will know, right? You’re closest to them. And you do I think, falling back on that, we do know our dogs.
I know Twiggy. She’s not food motivated. She literally couldn’t care less about food and treats. You’ll try to get her things sometimes and she’ll put it in her mouth and she’ll literally toss her head and throw it like “I don’t want that right now.” It’s hilarious and frustrating because she just doesn’t care. She likes attention. So that was something, but really, I just had to know my dog and find the thing that connected with her. I found that that was always a good starting point to make sure “Okay, I’m connected with her. She knows I’m here for her” and treat her in a way that feels happy. And then go from that, because if I got her in a place where she was already feeling anxious, it was really hard to pull her out of it. Do you feel like there’s any truth to that?
Find out more about pet separation anxiety and Pet Anxiety Awareness Month by watching the full video above!
For more information on Pet Anxiety Awareness Month and Kristen Levine:
Website – www.petanxietyawareness.com
FREE E-BOOK – www.kristenlevine.com/back-to-work
Have you ever tried to calm an anxious pet? If so, what tips and techniques helped you most?