(Family Circle) Separation anxiety can take a toll on your pets. Nearly 20 percent of the nation's 80 million dogs suffer from separation anxiety. If you've ever come home to a complaint about barking or an accident from you cat, your pet may have separation anxiety. Dogs and cats of any age can become panicked and destructive when left home alone. "Nearly all separation anxiety results from hyper-attachment to one or more owners," says Elizabeth Stelow, DVM, chief of the Behavior Service at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at UC Davis. Here's what you can do to help your furry friend fell more at ease:

Practice Short Absences
Introduce gradual departures to make pets less sensitive to your leaving. "Exit for however long you pet can be left home alone comfortably and then come back in," says Malena DeMartini, a certified dog behavior consultant. If you're unsure, start with a few seconds and build from there. As you slowly increase the length of time, continually check that your pet remains relaxed. Do this exercise five days a week for a total of about 20 minutes.

Use Interactive Feeders
While pets are in their most comfortable area, give them a food dispensing toy like a Kong Wobbler you can find it at for $13, filled with treats. Leave them the feeder as you depart to create a positive association with you walking out the door.

Be Cautious with Crating
"Some dogs are already anxious about being left alone and may become even more anxious when placed in a crate," says DeMartini. This can lead to confinement anxiety the fear of being in an enclosed environment. If your dog finds crating comforting, lucky you. If not, install a baby gate instead to keep your dog in one area.

Consider Medication
If your pet's anxiety gets worse or you don't notice a change, your vet may prescribe anti-anxiety or anti-depression medications. "Don't view medication as a last resort," says DeMartinit. "It can help with the problem sooner rather than later.

Rely on Technology
See what's really going on when our pets are home alone. Using video to record their behavior while you're away can help you spot other signs of separation anxiety, including: panting, pacing, drooling, extensive barking or meowing, excessive grooming in cats, and escape attempts.


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