GPs may be noticing an increase in pet behavior problems as more people return to the office from working from home as the US COVID-19 pandemic slows
JAVMA News spoke to two veterinary behaviorists about what GPs should look out for, when to refer them, and how to educate patients about possible separation anxiety.
dr Leslie Sinn, a veterinary behaviorist who practices in Virginia, said pre-pandemic research estimated that 14-20% of the canine population suffered from separation anxiety, but it probably wasn’t severe.
“In a lot of situations, people have been with their pets 24/7, basically for a year, a year and a half,” said Dr. Sense. “It seems that the problems will increase as people go back to work.”
dr Meghan Herron, senior director of behavioral medicine, research education, and outreach at Gigis, an organization dedicated to supporting shelter dogs, said pets adopted during the pandemic probably haven’t been left alone much, and it probably time to do so.
The following has been edited slightly for length and clarity.
Q. What should general practitioners look out for?
A dr Sense: GPs should pay attention to comments about fairly obvious things, such as: B. Pet owners hearing their dog barking when they come home or barking when they leave.
dr Herron: Any pandemic puppies or patients with a history of separation anxiety are likely candidates for behavior problems. Consider proactively alerting these clients to signs of separation anxiety such as vocalizations, destructive behavior, indoor elimination, hypersalivation, and escape attempts.
Q. When should a GP refer to a specialist?
A dr Sense: When a pet owner doesn’t have a large time frame to deal with. For example, if an owner comes home with an eviction notice or if the animal is injured. You need help fast. Behavioral scientists usually use a combination of drugs in severe cases to get relief as quickly as possible.
dr Herron: Customers who have lost their wits will likely want a referral. Some GPs are comfortable with behavior problems and mild to moderate separation anxiety. Typically, a referral is required when it comes to the point where a dog injures itself.
Q. How can GPs educate their patients about this?
A dr Sense: Suggest to each client that they get a little independence from their animal and their animal from them. Suggest that they practice being apart from each other daily by doing simple things like closing the door when showering or using the facilities.
Consider proactively letting customers know that this may be an issue when they return to work.
dr Herron: Patients don’t always know what the signs of separation anxiety are; help raise them. Let them know that an animal copes with stress and panic in a variety of ways. Some forms of panic leave evidence, but sometimes you don’t know about it unless you witness it. Consider suggesting that a customer monitor their pet with a webcam so they can see what happens when their pet is alone.