Evaluation of treatments for separation anxiety in dogs

Yukari Takeuchi DVM, PhD1, Katherine A. Houpt VMD, PhD, DACVB2, and Janet M. Scarlett DVM, MPH, PhD3
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  • 1 Laboratory of Veterinary Ethology, Veterinary Medical Science, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo 113-8657, Japan.
  • | 2 Animal Behavior Clinic, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.
  • | 3 Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Services, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.

Abstract

Objective—To evaluate treatment outcome in dogs with separation anxiety and owner compliance with and perception of effectiveness of discharge instructions.

Design—Cohort study.

Animals—52 dogs with separation anxiety.

Procedure—Sex, age at which the owner obtained the dog, age at which separation anxiety was first noticed, age at behavioral examination, and discharge instructions were obtained from medical records of each dog. Between 6 and 64 months after the behavioral examination, owners were contacted by telephone and questioned about the outcome of treatment, their compliance with discharge instructions, and their perception of the effectiveness of each instruction.

Results—Thirty-two (62%) dogs had improved, whereas 20 were the same, were worse, or had been euthanatized or given away. Mixed-breed dogs were significantly less likely to improve than purebred dogs. Compliance varied according to discharge instruction. Significantly fewer dogs with owners that were given > 5 instructions improved or were cured, compared with those with owners given fewer instructions. Twenty-seven dogs were also treated with amitriptyline or other medication; 15 (56%) improved.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Owners complied with instructions that involved little time such as omitting punishment and providing a chew toy at the time of departure. Owners were also willing to increase the dog's exercise but were not willing to uncouple the cues of departure from real departures or desensitize the dog to impending departure. Administration of psychoactive medication may be necessary to augment behavior modification techniques designed to reduce separation anxiety in dogs. (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000;217:342–345)

Abstract

Objective—To evaluate treatment outcome in dogs with separation anxiety and owner compliance with and perception of effectiveness of discharge instructions.

Design—Cohort study.

Animals—52 dogs with separation anxiety.

Procedure—Sex, age at which the owner obtained the dog, age at which separation anxiety was first noticed, age at behavioral examination, and discharge instructions were obtained from medical records of each dog. Between 6 and 64 months after the behavioral examination, owners were contacted by telephone and questioned about the outcome of treatment, their compliance with discharge instructions, and their perception of the effectiveness of each instruction.

Results—Thirty-two (62%) dogs had improved, whereas 20 were the same, were worse, or had been euthanatized or given away. Mixed-breed dogs were significantly less likely to improve than purebred dogs. Compliance varied according to discharge instruction. Significantly fewer dogs with owners that were given > 5 instructions improved or were cured, compared with those with owners given fewer instructions. Twenty-seven dogs were also treated with amitriptyline or other medication; 15 (56%) improved.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Owners complied with instructions that involved little time such as omitting punishment and providing a chew toy at the time of departure. Owners were also willing to increase the dog's exercise but were not willing to uncouple the cues of departure from real departures or desensitize the dog to impending departure. Administration of psychoactive medication may be necessary to augment behavior modification techniques designed to reduce separation anxiety in dogs. (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000;217:342–345)