Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Separation Angst

Even normally confident dogs can develop separation anxiety if they experience an excess of stress in their lives

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

When I left my dog Harper with a pet sitter recently while I was at a conference, I didn’t have too many concerns. Harper is a cavalier King Charles spaniel, a breed that’s known for being friendly and outgoing. A cavalier’s motto is usually “Love the one you’re with.”

But when I called later in the day to find out how things were going, I received the surprising and unwelcome news that Harper was barking nonstop when she was left alone. She was fine if the pet sitter was there, but even pet sitters have to leave the house sometimes, and Harper was not pleased about being crated in her absence.

Dogs who break housetraining, chew destructively -- especially at doors and windows -- or bark or howl in distress when left alone aren’t necessarily being bad, according to the upcoming book “From Fearful to Fear Free” (scheduled for publication in April 2018). They may be suffering from separation anxiety.

“Besides being noisy or destructive, dogs with separation anxiety may drool excessively, pace, lick themselves incessantly, or refuse to eat or drink,” write co-authors Dr. Marty Becker, Dr. Lisa Radosta, Dr. Wailani Sung and Mikkel Becker.

I never thought of Harper as having separation anxiety, but then I remembered last year’s visit to my parents’ house. I left for a few hours to go visit a friend, thinking Harper would be fine since she was familiar with the house and my family. When I returned, it was to a report that Harper had started barking as soon as I left, had diarrhea and then parked herself on the stairs to stare at the front door.

My dogs learn from an early age how to be comfortable when left alone. We start by leaving them crated for short periods, gradually increasing the amount of time we’re gone. They always get a treat when we leave so that our departure is a positive experience, and returns are low-key to encourage the dog to remain calm.

Although she still looks and acts like a puppy, Harper’s 10th birthday was last month. Was her change in behavior due to advancing age, I wondered? Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Sung says that’s not necessarily the cause, noting that only a small percentage of the cases of separation anxiety she sees involve older animals. But separation anxiety can occur at any age and may be related to changes in the dog’s life.

“When the family or owner schedule gets disrupted, the animals have more difficulty adjusting, and sometimes they become gradually distressed over time,” she said in an email interview.

Harper has had a stressful year, no doubt about it. She made several flights (in the cabin), including overseas trips, underwent open-heart surgery and the ensuing recovery period, and experienced a change in our household when our 17-year-old dog Gemma died in September. Any one of those, let alone all of them, could have been enough to make her anxious in new situations.

For pets with mild cases of separation anxiety, Dr. Sung has some advice.

“Maintain the same schedule and routine,” she says. “Provide both physical and mental exercise through walks and food-dispensing puzzle toys.”

The times that Harper has expressed signs of separation anxiety are when she has been left at places other than her regular pet sitter and without the support of one of our other dogs. Her signs aren’t serious enough to require medication, especially since it’s unlikely that she’ll experience these particular situations again, but it can help dogs with more severe cases be able to relax enough so that behavior modification under the guidance of an experienced trainer or a veterinary behaviorist can have an effect.


Giardia infection

common in dogs

Q: My dog doesn’t seem to keep any weight on and has been having occasional diarrhea for no apparent reason. I took in a fecal sample and it showed that he had been exposed to giardia. What can you tell me about this?

A: Giardia is a tricky parasite. The single-celled protozoan can infect most domestic and wild animals, as well as humans, although the canine form is not transmitted from dogs to humans. Infection with giardia has been reported in up to 39 percent of fecal samples from both pet dogs and cats and animals in shelters. It’s most common in puppies, but can also affect older dogs.

Animals become infected with giardia when they ingest water that has been contaminated with feces. The flagellate -- meaning whiplike -- protozoans then take up residence in the small intestine, attaching to mucosal surfaces and absorbing nutrients that come through. When they reproduce, cysts pass in the feces to contaminate the environment and further spread the infection. Transmission occurs by what we call the fecal-oral route -- ingestion of contaminated feces in water or other substances. Even a small amount is enough to give giardia a foothold in the body. High humidity helps ensure that the cysts survive in the environment, and overcrowding, whether in a shelter or kennel, aids transmission.

Many dogs with giardiasis show no signs, but others, like your dog, may lose weight or have chronic diarrhea. Vomiting can also be a sign. The parasite doesn’t always show up in stool samples, and veterinarians may need to do blood work to rule out conditions with similar signs such as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency or other cause of intestinal malabsorption.

Your veterinarian may prescribe a dewormer or antibiotic -- or a combination of the two -- followed by a recheck of a stool sample. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


Reindeer flight

includes vet check

-- In case you were wondering, Santa’s reindeer get a complete veterinary exam before their big flight. Clearing them for their international journey is official North Pole veterinarian Mike Topper, whose day job is president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Dr. Topper examines the reindeer -- including Rudolph -- for signs of transmissible illnesses such as brucellosis, tuberculosis or chronic wasting disease before issuing a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection. The preflight checkup occurs on Christmas Eve and is followed by an exam on Christmas morning to make sure the reindeer are still in tip-top shape after their long trip.

-- The characteristic markings of cats with tabby coats include an M shape that the stripes form on their forehead. A number of myths exist to explain how tabby cats came to acquire that distinguishing mark. One of those tales is a charming Christmas story about a friendly stable cat who jumped into the manger and began purring to soothe a crying baby Jesus. The grateful Mary laid her hand on the cat’s forehead in blessing, and tabby cats have borne her initial ever since in remembrance of their ancestor’s kind act.

-- It’s a given that dogs don’t live nearly long enough to suit their humans, but some breeds have a reputation for long lifespans. Of course, a good diet and veterinary care are contributing factors, but if a new puppy is in your future and you want to enjoy his company for a good, long time, consider one of the following breeds: Chihuahua, dachshund, Pomeranian, Lhasa apso, toy poodle, Shih Tzu, Australian cattle dog, Cardigan or Pembroke Welsh corgi and Portuguese podengo pequeno. They seem to have longevity baked into their genes. Even if you acquire one as an adult, you have a good chance of enjoying many years with him. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.