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RELAXATION Owners will enjoy vacation knowing pet is safe, happy



Published: Thu, May 31, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Getting away shouldn't leave pet owners feeling guilty.

For people, balmy weather, blue skies and get-away plans mean the vacation season. For pets, it can be a season of anxiety.

The American Animal Hospital Association reported that 76 percent of pet owners feel guilty when leaving their pets at home alone while pets may experience separation anxiety disorder. The feeling of abandonment may cause some pets to become overly anxious and stressed when their owners are gone for a day, a long weekend or a week or longer. This can lead to erratic and destructive behavior on the pet's part.

"Pets with this disorder think you're not coming back," said Dr. Dan Carey, a veterinarian and director of technical communications at Iams Co. "They don't know what to do when you're not there, and they lose control of themselves."

Training routine: The problem is found mostly in dogs because they are pack animals with social instincts. Dr. Carey said pet owners can try a behavioral training routine to help overcome the disorder.

The suggestions include:

UPractice leaving but don't leave. Your pet knows you're headed out the door when you pick up your keys and turn out the lights. Try picking up the keys, walking out and then coming right back. Repeated exercises will show your pet you will return.

UIt may be hard but try not to play or cuddle your pet for about a half hour before you leave. The anxiety can escalate if you give the pet a lot of attention before you leave.

UGive your pet a food treat or special toy before you leave . If you use a toy, take it back when you come home or give your pet another food treat.

UDon't lavish attention on your pet immediately when you get home; wait until he has calmed down.

UIf your pet soils the floor or destroys something in the house, don't punish him by yelling or spanking. Reprimanding will only make your pet more anxious before and after you leave.

UTry crate training. Slowly introduce your dog to a crate or kennel until he is comfortable staying there so you can leave him in it for a few hours at a time.

Pet sitter: Consistency when you're home will pay off when you're away for longer periods of time. Instead of sending your cat or dog to a kennel, try a pet sitter. Pet sitters come to your house, feed your pet, walk your dog and play with your cat. And depending on your arrangement, may even water your plants and pick up your mail. If you have more than one pet, a sitter is probably less expensive than a kennel.

When using a pet sitter, following these tips:

UMake sure the sitter and the company are licensed and insured.

UHave the sitter visit your home the week before you go on vacation so the sitter can meet your pets and receive your instructions.

UMention feeding instructions, medicines and household routines. Provide emergency contact information for yourself and the name and phone number of your veterinarian.

ULeave your pet a piece of old clothing you have worn recently. Your smell will be reassuring.

XCheck out Pet Sitters International at www.petsit.com for more information.




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