Golden Retriever dog tearing up pillow

When you’re not home, does your pet have their way with your belongings? Are the mangled boots, the peekaboo hole in the cashmere throw, or the gnawed window frame a statement of your dog or cat’s dissatisfaction?

While it may seem like an overt case of vindictiveness, rest assured that your pet isn’t doing it out of spite. In fact, there are plenty of reasonable explanations for this kind of behavior.

Your Pet May Be Bored

To you, the hours may fly by when you’re away from home. But for a homebound pet with no source of entertainment, it can seem like never-ending hours of solitary confinement.  Chewing, scratching or other behaviors may simply serve as an activity to fill their time.

So what can you do? Think about exercising your pets before you leave. Whether it’s a brisk walk for your dog or a laser pointer chase game with your cat, a little exercise can help work off pent-up energy. You can also try leaving indestructible toys at home or food puzzles to help keep pets occupied.

If you’re away for eight hours or more, consider a doggie daycare facility where your dog can cavort with other like-minded dogs. Or hire someone to take your dog to the park or play with your cat in the middle of the day. There are even remote cameras that enable you to watch and talk to your pet remotely and dish out treats to reward good behavior.

Destructive Behavior in Pets Could Be Anxiety

Pets can become destructive if they suffer from stress and anxiety, and separation anxiety is a real issue. Here, the absence of a favorite human can cause severe distress that leads to barking, whining, trembling, potty accidents in the house and the destruction of windows, doors and, often, your possessions.

Dogs can also be afraid of loud noises such as fireworks, gunshots and thunderstorms. If a thunderstorm occurs while you’re at work, for example, a dog with a storm phobia may try to chew on a door or leap through a window in an attempt to escape. Barking, pacing and destruction of property can also be signs of noise phobias.

In both cases, dogs can physically injure themselves either from trying to escape from the house or kennel or from compulsively licking or scratching themselves. The important thing to know is that these pets are experiencing profound distress. Punishment should be avoided because it will likely make the situation worse. The best thing you can do is work with your veterinarian to identify the cause of the anxiety. Depending on the severity of the problem, your veterinarian may recommend that you take your pet to a behaviorist, or possibly prescribe medication.

For separation anxiety, behavior modification can include changing your departure cues. For example, picking up your car keys so they’re not always associated with leaving, teaching independence, providing rewards when leaving and ignoring the pet on return until they’re calm. For dogs with noise phobias, it’s about teaching them the noise doesn’t have to be frightening. Pairing a recording of thunder at low volumes with a treat and gradually increasing the volume can help some dogs learn to stay calm.

Doggie Daycare pet anxiety graphic

Compulsive Behaviors

Some pets may indulge in compulsive behaviors while you’re gone. Oriental cat breeds such as Siamese, Burmese and Birman can have a particular fondness for wool, and as a result, they may suck, chew and swallow parts of your favorite sweater or socks.

This behavior can also lead to compulsive licking of other fabrics as well as paper and plastics. In some cases, cats may also lick the hair off themselves, leaving bald patches. Swallowing large amounts of these items could lead to a gastrointestinal blockage that requires emergency surgery.

While experts believe that wool sucking may have a genetic component to it, there can also be an underlying medical condition contributing to the problem. In these cases, it’s best to work with your veterinarian to pinpoint the cause and determine the right treatment, which may include stress reduction, behavior modification and possibly medication.

Where There’s a Cause, There’s a Cure

A pet’s behavior is rarely caused by mood or emotions. There is almost always a root cause for a cat or dog’s actions, and with a little digging and a lot of compassion, you can figure out what is bothering your furry friend and take steps to fix it. And, as always, consult with your veterinarian before giving up!

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.