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Separation anxiety is a term we hear more and more often. But what is
it? Why do only some dogs get it? How can it be treated?
This is a review of a research paper published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal,
The author was a student writing a case study about one single dog, a pointer mix adopted froma shelter. He started to shows signs of separation anxiety from the beginning. He had a full
physical check up and they started with behavioral therapy modification. After two weeks of modification therapy the dog was able to stay home alone for 1 hour, but after two hours he
would start with vocalization and damaging the front door.
It was recommended to use an anxiolytic drug in addition to the behavior modification
One of the most common behavioral problems in dogs is separation anxiety. By
continuously rewarding calm and wanted behavior to teach the dog that it is okay to be left
home alone you can cure it. Pharmacotherapy might also be helpful in addition to behavioral therapy.
The dogs might be perfectly calm and at ease when they are with their owner, but as soon
as they see something that they associate with their pack leaving, they will start to panic. Typical indications of separation anxiety are vocalization, destruction, urination and defecating.
A dog should always get a full physical examination to rule out that the symptoms are not
from a physical disease before being diagnosed with separation anxiety. It should also be ruled
out that the symptoms are not cause to fear, aggression, playing, housebreaking, excitement and marking.
It is more common to see separation anxiety in adopted dogs that were abandoned as
young, or older dogs that have experienced big changes in their homes. Dogs are highly social animals and because they form such strong social bonds to humans it is believed that separation
anxiety might come from desolation of the social state. In social species it is crucial with attachment behavior to maintain the social bonds between the individuals.
Since Separation anxiety is a panic response, it is the memory of how the dog felt during
the time when the panic appeared that will continue to boost the cycle.
One type of treatment for separation anxiety is behavioral treatment. By rewarding calm
behavior, while doing normal rituals that the dog usually associates with the owner leaving, the
dog will start to understand that it is not a big deal. Leaving the dog alone for 5 seconds and then slowly increasing it as long as the dog is calm and at ease is a good way to reinforce positive
behavior of a dog with separation anxiety.
Below is an example of behavioral treatment against separation anxiety:
Sometimes it might be necessary to use an anti anxiety drug such as clomipramine in
addition to behavioral treatment. Clomipramine could help desensitizing the dog and make behavioral treatment more effective. Clomipramine does not interfere with short-term memory
and is a drug certified to use against separation anxiety. Previously to distributing clomipramine for the dog it has to have had a full physical examination to make sure the dog is in good
physical shape minimize and chances of side effects of the drug.
20%-40% of average dog behavioral consultants workload is about separation anxiety, and
it is a very common issue in dogs. The use of psychotropic drugs in animals is increasing more
and more among veterinary behavioral medicine.
Separation anxiety is a problem among dogs that I find very interesting after having a dog my self that had severe separation anxiety. I think separation anxiety is something that veterinarians,
breeders and volunteer organizations should provide more information to the new dog owners to help and aid learning to not make the separation anxiety worse because of lack of
information. I am glad the research with anti anxiety drugs is being tested out among animals, but I hope they will only be distributed with caution, and along with how to do behavioral
This is a review of the article http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC339210/.
The author was a student writing a case study on one single dog, a pointer mix adopted from a
shelter. He started to shows signs of separation anxiety from the beginning. He had a full physical check up and they started with behavioral therapy modification. After two weeks of
modification therapy the dog was able to stay home alone for 1 hour, but after two hours he would start with vocalization and damaging the front door.
It was recommended to use an anxiolytic drug in addition to the behavior modification program.
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3. Houpt KA. Domestic Animal Behavior for Veterinarians and Animal Scientists. 3rd ed. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State Univ Pr, 1998: 364–369.
4. Overall KL. Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals. St. Louis, Missouri: CV Mosby, 1997:293–318.
5. Marder AR. Psychotropic drugs and behavioral therapy. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 1991;21:329–342. 6. Simpson BS, Simpson DM. Behavioral pharmacotherapy. Part I. Antipsychotics and antidepressants. Compend Contin Educ Pract Vet 1996;18:1067–1081.
7. Plumb DC. Veterinary Drug Handbook. 3rd ed. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State Univ Pr, 1999:148–150.
8. Podberscek AL, Hsu Y, Serpell JA. Evaluation of clomipramine as an adjunct to behavioural therapy in the treatment of separation-related problems in dogs. Vet Rec 1999;145:365–369.
9. Hewson CJ, Luescher A, Parent J, Conlon PD, Ball RO. Efficacy of clomipramine in thetreatment of canine compulsive disorder. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1998;213:1760–1766.
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