Updated: Apr 4
Quite often, clients report behaviors in their dogs that are suggestive of separation anxiety (SA) but doubt exists in the veterinarian’s mind as to whether the dog actually is suffering from this troublesome condition. Owners might, for example, report that their dog chews furniture or has “accidents” in the house, and that the unwelcome behavior occur when they are not around. Is the dog that chews furniture doing so because they are bored by an under-stimulating lifestyle and thus displacing their frustration into wanton chewing? Or does the dog really have SA? Is the dog that is urinating in the house exhibiting a breakdown in housetraining or do they have SA? To answer such questions, we have devised a SA questionnaire, the responses to which can assist in ruling in (or out) SA as the root of the problem. The questionnaire was designed with the understanding that SA is a syndrome of excessive attachment or fear of being alone that manifests as a pattern of behaviors, not just one or two isolated, perhaps unrelated behaviors. The questionnaire encompasses elements such as the dog’s background (known to influence the development of SA), attachment, pre-departure, and post-departure behaviors, and greeting behavior.
All owners of young pups should complete the questionnaire so that, if SA is suspected, corrective measures can be taken before the condition exacerbates.
Owners of all dogs exhibiting behavior problems only in their owners’ absence should complete the questionnaire. Scoring the chart will give an indication of the severity of the condition.
Serial reevaluations of the SA score post-treatment will provide a measure of the dog’s improvement over time.
Owners of dogs that exhibit late-life or geriatric-onset nocturnal anxiety (pacing, panting, salivating when their owner are asleep) should be required to complete the questionnaire. SA is sometimes precipitated by an un-diagnosed painful/dysphoric medical problem and/or canine cognitive dysfunction. In such cases, a positive diagnosis of SA should lead to more extensive medical work-up and symptomatic treatment.
Owners should complete the form checking yes, no, or don’t know to the questions relating to the dog’s history (background). While not all dogs with SA have had a disturbed background, many have, so positive answers in this section provide an element of suspicion that SA is involved.
The next section of questions under the heading “behavior” relates to the dog’s attachment level, pre- and post-departure cues, and greeting behavior. Here, affirmative responses are qualified as mild, moderate or severe.
THE SEPARATION ANXIETY QUESTIONNAIRE
Affirmative answers to 5 out of 10 questions in the behavioral section alone indicate separation anxiety.
Affirmative answers to any of the historical questions plus 4 out of 10 affirmative answers in the behavioral section of the questionnaire is grounds for a diagnosis of separation anxiety.
Affirmative answers to 3 to 4 questions (including responses re. dysfunctional background) indicate a sub-threshold level of affliction i.e. the disorder may be present to some degree but is not necessarily definitively diagnosable (unless the 3 or 4 responses specifically include hyper-attachment, destructive behavior, and vocalization, +/- elimination behavior, or are at a severe level).
Affirmative answers to < 3 questions pretty much rules out separation anxiety.
For scoring, affirmative answers in any area of the history section scores 1 point (no more). Affirmative answers to the behavioral questions is as follows: No = 0, mild = 1, moderate = 2, severe = 3. A dog that is diagnosable will thus have a minimum score of 5 points (5 mild expressions of behavioral anomaly in the behavioral section or a dysfunctional history plus 4 mild expressions of behavioral anomaly in the behavioral section). The most severe case possible would have a score of 30 on the behavioral questions (with an additional 1 point if there was a dysfunctional history, as well).