How technology can help manage separation anxiety in your veterinary patients

12 min read

I ruined my husband’s dog. There, I admitted it. Even a veterinary professional with more than 10 years of clinical experience and lofty goals of gaining her VTS in behavior can fail at setting her pet up for success. Here’s my story:

Kane was all my husband’s idea. I did not want to deal with training and caring for a puppy, but my husband assured me that he would be the primary caretaker for this Great Dane monster. Silly me for believing him. Working at a veterinary hospital, I naturally took the pup to work with me every day to help with potty training and socialization. 

Here’s where I went wrong. We had a clinic puppy at the time — his name was Frankie — who was recovering from a shattered jaw and skull. As Frankie healed, he became best friends with Kane. These two puppies played together all day long. They ran wild through the clinic. They snuggled up for naptime in the manager’s office. Neither puppy was ever alone or crated while at the hospital, which made crate-training and teaching independent behavior at home a nightmare.

When we returned home after work, my husband clung tightly to his precious puppy, since he didn’t get to see him all day. Any time that puppy got off the couch, went to the water bowl, or ran to find a toy, my husband called for him to see where he was and why he wasn’t next to him. So, I suppose it wasn’t just me who ruined Kane; my husband also had separation anxiety from his puppy.

Since Kane had zero experience with being alone during his socialization period, it was incredibly tough to convince him that we weren’t coming back when we left the room, stepped outside, or, even worse, drove away. We went through four sets of curtains, a shredded window screen, and ear-piercing whining and howling before I could begin to get a handle on his separation anxiety. Even now, as Kane approaches his second birthday, he will pace by the door and leap up to look out the curtainless window to see where his dad is when my husband is outside. But, handling separation anxiety in pets is a lifelong process that requires constant management, so we’re working on it.

Although Kane wasn’t a pandemic puppy, he ended up in the same situation as many of them, with constant owner attention and the inability to learn independent behaviors. As a veterinary professional, you’re likely dealing with separation anxiety in several of your young patients as pet owners head back to work.

The rise of the pandemic puppy

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people worked from home, and many pets received constant attention. In fact, there’s an entire demographic of pets named “pandemic puppies” in the veterinary industry.

Pandemic pets have been returning for their annual wellness visits, completely unsocialized, scared of their own shadows, and with crippling separation anxiety as their owners return to work.

Although it seemed like a fantastic idea to bring home a new puppy to keep the family occupied during quarantine, many people — like me — failed to set their pet up for success by teaching independent behavior during this time. You’re likely seeing an influx of pandemic puppies as you reopen your hospital doors and these pets reach that one-year post-puppy vaccination mark.

Your clients may be complaining of ruined furniture, inappropriate elimination, and other separation anxiety signs displayed by their overly attached pets as they return to work, so take the time to address their concerns and prevent the anxiety from escalating. Use the veterinary technology features you have at hand to quickly and easily diagnose, treat, and provide ongoing management of separation anxiety in your patients.

Diagnosis: Is it really separation anxiety?

First, establish that what your client is seeing is true separation anxiety—not just naughty, untrained behavior.

Pro tip: Use your animal hospital’s app to send notifications to all new puppy owners once per month that highlight the importance of socialization and early training.

The easiest way to determine if your patient has separation anxiety is to have your client take a video of their pet while they’re gone to see when the behavior begins, and what it actually looks like. Most separation anxiety cases experience the greatest upset within the first hour of being left alone. Once your client manages to record a video capturing their pet’s behavior, you can make an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment: Make it easy for your clients to pick up anti-anxiety medications

Many separation anxiety cases benefit from pharmaceutical assistance. You may prescribe anti-anxiety medications for long-term or immediate effect, calming supplements, or prescription diets. Make it simple for your clients to refill and pick up these items to ensure doses aren’t skipped and your patients receive support on all levels. For example, you may have an online pharmacy that ships prescriptions straight to your client’s front door, or you might have a hospital app that allows clients to request a prescription refill. Another great way to cater to your clients is to offer curbside pickup for medications. By using your app, your clients can request a refill, be notified when it’s ready, pay for their prescription, and let you know they’re in your parking lot for pickup. Take one thing off your overwhelmed client’s plate by offering a variety of ways for them to easily and quickly refill their pet’s prescriptions.

Ongoing management: Check in regularly for progress reports

Once you’ve diagnosed separation anxiety in your patient, regular follow-ups are essential for monitoring their progress. (Bonus: They also strengthen the relationship you share with your client.)

Separation anxiety follow-ups performed via telemedicine are an excellent way to provide quality care and maximize your time in the hospital.

You can quickly and easily chat with your client about their pet’s progress, request follow-up videos, authorize prescription refills, and provide additional client education resources in a brief, 15-minute appointment.

By using veterinary technology to diagnose, treat, and provide ongoing management of separation anxiety in your patients, you’ll experience greater success while meeting the needs of your clients. Clients increasingly began to demand veterinary telemedicine services during the pandemic, and, as veterinary hospitals open back up, you can continue to implement these efficient features in addition to your in-hospital appointments.

Interested in learning how a custom-branded animal hospital app and dedicated client engagement and communication platform can help provide more resources for your clients? Schedule a demo of the Vet2Pet platform to discover how your practice’s unique pain points can be solved with technology!

Murray, RVT, Melissa

Murray, RVT, Melissa

Melissa Murray, RVT is a registered veterinary technician who lives in rural Indiana. After retiring from daily clinical practice, she now spends her days writing content geared toward educating pet owners and helping veterinary professionals work smarter, not harder. In addition to Kane the Dane, Melissa also has a neurotic border collie/heeler mix, Sierra, and a small herd of pygmy goats.

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