Pet Separation Anxiety: The Human-Animal Bond in Two Studies

Are you one of the millions of people who suffer from pet separation anxiety?

Studies have shown that the human-animal bond is a powerful one, and that many people experience anxiety when separated from their pets. This phenomenon has become even more pronounced after we all spent months at home with our pets 24/7 because of Covid.

In this blog post, I will discuss two studies that looked into pet separation anxiety.

The participants in the first study consisted of 313 Australian pet owners, 90% of whom were women.

In the second study, on the other hand, the researchers looked for evidence of pet separation anxiety in a group of freshmen in college in the US who had recently been separated from their family pets.

What is Separation Anxiety Disorder?

People struggling with Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) feel intense worry, nervousness, and fear when they are separated from a person or thing to which they are attached. These feelings can be so strong that they interfere with normal daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or going to school or work.

The main symptoms of separation anxiety disorder include:

  • Excessive worry about separation from attachment figures.
  • Persistent and excessive fear of losing attachment figures or someone close to them.
  • Avoidance of activities that involve separation from attachment figures.
  • Persistent and excessive fear of being alone.
  • Intense distress when separation from attachment figures occurs or is anticipated.
  • Persistent and excessive fear of things happening to attachment figures.
  • Repeated complaints of physical symptoms (such as headaches, stomachaches, nausea, or vomiting) when separation from attachment figures occurs or is anticipated.
  • Children will often refuse to go to school. Other possible behaviours include clinginess and tantrums.

Pet Separation Anxiety – The Australia Study

In a paper entitled Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder: The Human-Animal Bond, which was published in The Journal of Affective Disorders, the researchers looked at the onset of Separation Anxiety Disorder in adults when separated from their animal companions.

The study found that people who experienced pet separation anxiety tended to be highly attached dog owners who did not have children living at home and who had limited friendships.

The owners of cats did not develop the same close bonds that dog-owners did with their pets, and hence were less prone to suffering from pet separation anxiety.

Pet Separation Anxiety – The US Study

The second study was carried out by Washington State University anthropologists Alexa Carr and Patricia Pendry. They published their results in the journal Anthrozoos, a multidisciplinary journal of the interactions between people and other animals.

They were looking for evidence of pet separation anxiety in a group of anxious owners who were freshmen in college. Freshmen college students move away from home and they have to leave their family pets behind.

The researchers concluded that students with significant pet involvement had separation anxiety as they adjusted to college. This jeopardized their academic progress and was a potential risk factor for potential mental health concerns.

How to ease your pet separation anxiety

The bond between humans and their dogs is a strong one, and it’s not surprising that many people experience anxiety when separated from their pets. It also makes sense that this anxiety is even more profound when the person is almost totally dependent on their pets for companionship, as is the case with people who have been widowed or who live alone.

If you are experiencing pet separation anxiety, there are things that you can do to ease your anxiety. These include:

  • Make sure that your pet has a safe place to stay while you’re away. That will ease your worries, and you will also be able to relax and have fun without feeling guilty.
  • Leave your pet with a familiar person or animal. You will then know for sure that your pet is happy and well cared for.
  • Stay in touch with your pet while you’re away by sending texts, photos, or videos.

You should also address the underlying issues that have made you so dependent on your pet in the first place. Having a close bond with your dog is a wonderful thing. However that does not mean that you should not also try to build similarly strong bonds with other people. This will make you a happier and more well-rounded person, and will help to ease your pet separation anxiety.

Some ideas to widen your network of friends and acquaintances include:

  • Join a club or team.
  • Attend community events.
  • Volunteer for a cause that you care about.
  • Get a part-time or full-time job.
  • Go back to school.
  • Take a class.
  • Join a meetup group.
  • Make an effort to connect with people who have similar interests.
  • Attend religious or spiritual services.

Final Thoughts

You could also try to join clubs or activities where your dog can come along and join in the fun. This way, you can socialize with other people and your dog at the same time. Doing so will help to reduce your pet separation anxiety and will make you both happier in the long run.

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