- Excessive hair loss and fur damage may indicate boredom, loneliness and even severe separation anxiety among household pets, according to experts.
- If your pet is experiencing loss of interest in playtime or increased sleep, these may be warning signs of loneliness.
- Too much isolation for your furry friend can even cause destructive behavior like howling and ripping up furniture.
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We all want our furriest family members to be happy, but crammed social calendars or busy work schedules can sometimes mean pets need to be left on their own. Though it’s hard not to feel guilty in these situations, it can also be hard to identify if your pet is lonely and what you can do about it
INSIDER consulted with veterinarians and pet experts to identify signs that your pet needs company and how you can help.
Your pet follows you around the house constantly
Dr. Joe Alcorn, veterinarian at Care Animal Hospital in Temecula, California, told INSIDER that a lonely pet may sometimes follow a family member around the house in order to get the companionship they crave. Though it’s not unusual for animals to want to stay close to their favorite humans, having a pet that stalks you from room to room or whines whenever you’re out of view may be showing signs of loneliness or separation anxiety.
Make sure you’re giving your pet focused attention when you are around to help get your pet back on track. Keep them occupied with interesting or treat-stuffed toys when you need to leave them alone.
Your pet isn’t as playful as they once were
If your formerly-energetic pet now appears listless and lazy, loneliness may be to blame. Dr. Alcorn told INSIDER that one surprising sign of loneliness in household pets is a lack of interest in playtime. Lonely animals may often be so distressed or unhappy that they don’t engage with their owners or other pets.
In some cases, pets may lack the social skills to be comfortable playing with other animals due to a lack of consistent company. Make sure your pet is getting frequent access to the company of other animals and make an effort to play with them consistently.
Lonely dogs might develop lick granulomas
Not all signs of loneliness in pets are behavioral. A lonely dog might begin to lick or bite at their own fur, causing hair loss or damage.
“Lick granulomas are a common manifestation of boredom or anxiety in dogs, and present as small circular sores that are often on the dog’s carpus or ‘wrist,'” Dr. Caroline Wilde, staff veterinarian at Trupanion, told INSIDER.
Many lick granulomas start small but can develop into major skin lesions that require medical intervention and even surgery. Getting your dog to a vet and identifying the trigger for their obsessive licking is the best thing you can do if you spot evidence of lick granulomas.
Lonely cats may experience hair loss
Cat owners know that felines have a fondness for keeping clean. Lonely cats left to their own devices, however, will sometimes take their hygiene to a harmful extreme and develop a condition known as “bare belly syndrome.”
“When cats are anxious due to their owner’s absence, they will often over-groom. This can result in hair loss, usually on the cat’s lower belly,” said Wilde. Hair loss due to excessive grooming can often be identified by hair regrowth, hinting that the cat is removing hair rather than struggling to grow it.
As always, checking with your vet about any fur or body changes is the best course of action.
They’re sleeping more than normal during the day
Noticing that your pet is sleeping more during the day or not settling down at night could be a clue that they’re feeling lonely or bored.
“Lonely pets often sleep a lot through the day because there is no distraction,” said Alcorn.
This daytime napping can result in restlessness in the evening or waking up in the middle of the night.
Of course, many pets need much more sleep than most adult humans. According to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, dogs and cats generally require about 12 hours of sleep per day to be healthy and happy. Because animals are flexible sleepers, lonelier pets are likely to fulfill most of their daily quota during the day and sleepless at night.
Pets who have lost an owner or friend may linger near their belongings
Pets who are missing someone who is no longer around might exhibit certain behaviors that can tip you off to their potential loneliness.
“If your pet has lost an animal friend or human that they were very closely bonded to, they will sometimes sit near that person’s favorite spot in the house or sleep in the other pet’s bed,” Dr. Yolanda Ochoa, veterinarian and regional veterinary director of Fetch My Vet, told INSIDER.
Though there’s nothing you can do to bring back a person or pet who has died or left their lives forever, giving your pet lots of love and attention while they adjust to the absence can help them feel safe and less lonely.
Your pet’s appetite decreases
One indication of pet loneliness can be a change in appetite. Ochoa told INSIDER that a lonely pet may begin to eat or drink less than they used to. A change in feeding patterns may be linked to stress or anxiety, with loneliness being one possible cause.
It’s important to remember that loss of appetite at mealtimes can also be a sign of medical problems or even snacking on too many treats throughout the day, so talk to your vet to rule out any serious causes.
They’re destructive or howl when left alone
Does leaving your pet alone usually mean endless barking or whining at the door? Excessive howling might be a clue that your furry friend is feeling bored or under-stimulated without you around.
Some pets feel such fear about being left alone that they might claw the furniture or rip up carpeting. In these cases, it’s likely that your pet is suffering from separation anxiety rather than simple loneliness. Talk to your vet about how to reduce or eliminate this behavior.