What Percentage of Dogs Have Separation Anxiety?

Adrienne Farricelli

Many dog owners wonder what percentage of dogs have separation anxiety. Studies reveal interesting findings.

Knowing what percentage of dogs have separation anxiety can help us understand how widespread this behavior problems truly is, but finding completely accurate statistics isn't very easy. First of all, the signs of dog separation anxiety can be confused with those of other behavioral conditions, leading to dogs being over diagnosed with separation anxiety when in reality they are suffering from something else. On top of this, many dogs suffering from separation anxiety may not be reported by dog owners, leading to inaccurate numbers since these dogs aren't being counted in studies.

The Great Imitator

Separation anxiety has a reputation for being the "great imitator" because it is often confused with other behavioral conditions. True separation anxiety is known to occur contingent upon the dog's favorite person getting ready to leave and then no longer being present. Affected dogs show distinct signs such as pacing, panting, drooling, scratching windows and doors, urinating and defecating when left alone and whining, barking and howling. Severe cases may lead to dogs injuring themselves in their efforts to be reunited with their owners.

Behavior conditions that may mimic separation anxiety in dogs include territorial aggression (territorial dogs may bark at outdoor triggers and even become destructive, chewing and scratching at door frames or window sills), boredom (particularly in young dogs who destroy things like the couch when left alone), confinement anxiety (affected dogs become anxious upon being crated), barrier frustration (affected dogs become frustrated when a barrier such as a door or window separates them from a person) and other forms of anxiety (e.g. noise phobias, anxiety seen in elderly dogs suffering from cognitive dysfunction).

An Accurate Diagnosis

With several behavioral issues being confused for separation anxiety, how can it be accurately diagnosed? Diagnosis takes several steps. A good starting point is for dog owners to record their dog's behavior when left alone. Then, this recording can be shown to a dog behavior professional such as a dog trainer specializing in separation anxiety or a veterinary behaviorist (DACVB). Along with taking a detailed behavioral history, the recording can therefore lead to a diagnosis by a professional in the field.

Important would be to rule medical triggers out. Certain medical conditions may cause behavior changes or vulnerabilities which may pave the path towards separation anxiety. Conditions to rule out or confirm include hypothyroid disease, deafness, blindness and arthritis.

What Percentage of Dogs Have Separation Anxiety?

So roughly, what percentage of dogs have separation anxiety? According to the University of Saskatchewan Undergraduate Research Journal Volume 4, Issue 2, 2018 , "It is estimated that this disorder is prevalent in between 20 and 40 percent of all dogs that are treated by animal behaviour specialists in North America (Simpson 2000, as reviewed by Thielke and Udell 2017).