What can I do about separation anxiety in my dog?

Question: 

My 9 year old Chinese Crested recently started suffering from separation anxiety when no one is home.  When we go out, we put him in the kitchen (gated) with our other dogs.  We have been doing this for years with no issues. Now at 9 years old he is having this problem. It started with him pulling down a 4 foot gate and being out of the gated kitchen when we got home. We installed a different gate and set up cameras to see what he is doing when we are gone. The other two dogs are sleeping and he is pacing the floor, crying and chewing on the cabinets. My vet said she is against behavior modification drugs, but we were instructed to try melatonin, which did nothing.  Would chamomile tea help? Any info you could give me would be appreciated.

Answer: 

Separation anxiety is a common condition in dogs, although a little less common when developing late in life – particularly if there are no recent changes in your household. 

The immediate, short term solution may be to obtain a crate for your dog.  This not only will save your furniture, but also gives them a space that is their own – especially if you also have a bed in it, feed them in it, and otherwise associate it with good experiences (vs. being a punishment).

In some cases, a very thorough history and behavioral modification or environmental modifications can help resolve the anxiety.  In other situations, medications (including Prozac, Clomicalm, and others) can help as well.  That said, it also is important to consider medical causes … particularly given that it was not a problem until late in life. These could range from hyperthyroidism (uncommon in dogs, but it does happen) to an adrenal tumor that secretes norepinephrine to a brain tumor.  I am not trained in homeopathic/herbal medications, and my experience is limited to medications that have been demonstrated to be effective in studies, so I cannot advise you regarding those. There are some herbal medications that many claim to be effective anecdotally.  However, I would be very cautious of what you read on line! There is a lot of misinformation out there … which is why we set up ExpertVet!

My suggestion is that you request referral to a board-certified specialist in veterinary behavior.  They will do a physical exam, take an extensive history, recommend any appropriate medical tests (minimally they should perform routine blood work), and then develop a plan to address the issue … that may or may not include medications to reduce anxiety.  If this is ineffective, and you wish to pursue herbal / homeopathic therapy, I would suggest consultation with a veterinarian who specializes in these medications.