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5 signs that your dog is lonely

Many dogs were bought during, or experienced living through, the Covid lockdown period, and these poor pets have had a really bad time of it. Massive changes in their routine are likely to have taken place, resulting in them receiving much less attention now compared to what they were encouraged to think was normal. Dogs are animals of routine. These drastic changes in routine will have had a huge impact on their mental health in a similar fashion to that of humans. Not having their owner around as much as they have become used to can lead to anxiety or loneliness. Loneliness in a pet can be a difficult emotion to judge because it is most commonly experienced when you are not present. Below we will discuss how you can tell whether your pet is lonely.

Common signs that your dog is lonely

There are lots of possible causes for many of these, but loneliness (or, at its more severe, separation anxiety) is a common cause for all of them.

Lethargy is perhaps the most subtle symptom

Your dog may appear less keen to go on walks and generally have less energy. In extreme cases, they may not even come to greet you at the door anymore. It may feel like your pet is withdrawing from you. Lethargy can be a sign of systemic illness and should not be ignored; especially if it appears alongside other clinical signs such as vomiting, diarrhoea or anorexia. 

Becoming over-excitable once they do receive human attention is a very common symptom

This suggests they have been waiting for a period of time for human contact. Becoming overexcitable may include jumping up more, urinating during human interactions and running extremely fast. Try not to overly fuss your pet when you do return home as these behaviours do not need to be positively reinforced. Wait for them to calm down and then give them your attention and fuss. Often dogs who become overly excitable will show signs such as pacing when they are left.

Destructive behaviours can occur as boredom and frustration build up

Your dog may begin destroying furniture in the house. Sometimes pets will start going to the toilet in strange places too, this can be urination or defaecation. In rare cases, if this behaviour continues, pets may even become aggressive to people. If aggression is displayed, we strongly recommend you seek advice and training from a qualified clinical animal behaviourist as this could get more and more dangerous.

Appetite changes may occur

This includes eating more or less than normal or eating much more slowly than normal. Appetite is controlled by hormones and if your pet is feeling low, appetite is commonly affected. Do not change your dog’s diet during this phase. Diet change can cause gastrointestinal upset, making it more difficult to monitor symptom change and cause. 

Changes in vocalisation are often seen with loneliness

Dogs can become either more or less vocal. Sometimes it may appear your pet is calling for attention. Other times, they may be more silent and not respond to stimuli as you would expect. These overall behaviour changes are generally linked with depression which can be linked to loneliness.

Not all pets will show these signs

Some may show a few, all, or none of the symptoms listed. Loneliness is a difficult emotion to control. If your pet is showing any signs of loneliness, do not panic. The symptoms listed above are not specific to loneliness and could have a different primary cause. Below are some simple steps that you could take in order to help your dog’s loneliness.

Increase the stimuli in the house 

This could include buying more toys for your dog to play with whilst you are absent. You could even buy slow feeding toys like Kongs, which require your dog to continue to play with the toy in order to get the food from it. These games are good for mental stimulation, as well as controlling the speed at which your pet eats. 

This is however only a temporary distraction, so use it to buy time while you see what else you can do.

Altering your dog’s exercise routine may help their loneliness

If you make your pet tired with a longer walk prior to leaving them, they are likely to feel comfortable sleeping all day. Sleeping is a brilliant way for your dog to keep calm and occupied, but if your dog is feeling anxious about when you will be returning home, they are unlikely to sleep.

Increasing the amount of human contact your dog receives throughout the week 

This may seem obvious, but there are people out there who may want to help you. Posting on Facebook or speaking to family, neighbours, or students may allow you to find someone to help. Many people enjoy the social benefits of having a dog and therefore would enjoy coming to walk your dog during the day whilst you are out. You could also consider hiring a dog walker or booking your dog into doggy day care for those days when you are likely to be out most of the day.

Remember, any changes to your dog’s routine should be carried out gradually so your pet has time to adapt. Try to keep your pet’s routine as similar as possible to avoid confusing them any more!

If your pet is showing signs of loneliness…

First of all, get them checked out by your vet to make sure there isn’t an underlying medical cause. Then we would strongly advise that you talk to a qualified clinical animal behaviourist who will be able to help your pet adjust and adapt.

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