Archives for January 2013

Beyond Separation Anxiety: Part 3, Why is My House Yellow?

Another common symptom of separation anxiety is urination and/or defecation in the house. First, all medical causes (I.E. intestinal parasites, urinary tract infections, etc) need be ruled out by visiting your veterinarian. Then, other behavioral causes should be ruled out.

Regarding urination, we must differentiate between urine marking (usually small amounts of urine on vertical surfaces) and inappropriate urination (usually large amounts of urine on horizontal surfaces). Urine marking can be due to hormonal causes in intact animals as well as anxiety and territoriality. Castration decreases marking in 70-80% of male dogs, regardless of the age of castration. Behavioral causes of inappropriate urination include management issues (I.E. home alone too long without access to an elimination area), substrate preference (carpet!), location preference, substrate or location aversion (bad weather), inadequate or lapse in house training, excitement urination, and submissive urination. Except for the last 2 causes, the same differentials apply to inappropriate defecation.
The first important step in treatment is to prevent situations that elicit the behavior. For example, a territorial pet that marks when people and dogs pass the house can be prevented from watching triggers through the window by pulling down the blinds or using wallpaper for windows (http://www.wallpaperforwindows.com/pc/home.asp). Also, dogs tend to mark new objects in the house, so keep these objects out of the dog’s reach. For example, avoid leaving a grocery bag or back pack on the ground when you walk in the door with your hands full. Instead, keep these items out of reach of the dog. Urinating and defecating are normal behaviors, so avoid punishing your dog. Punishment will also make the anxiety worse and the dog will not associate the punishment with the behavior if punished more than 1 second after the behavior occurred. Make sure to clean elimination in the house with a combination enzymatic/bacterial cleaner to degrade the urine rather than simply covering up the smell (my favorite is Anti-Icky-Poo, http://www.antiickypoo.com/). A belly band, which is essentially a male diaper, can be used as a short-term solution as long as it does not cause a cause skin infection. In some cases, anti-anxiety medication may be indicated.

If house training is the problem, here are some tips to help your dog be successful: Supervise your dog at ALL times, even keeping a leash on your dog and holding the leash. The dog should have one month without accidents in the house before allowing gradually increasing access to the house. When not directly supervised the dog should be confined. Take your dog outside to eliminate after waking up, coming out of the kennel, playing, eating, and right before bed. Initially take the dog outside every 1-2 hours and gradually increase the time over several weeks to months as they are successful. When you take your dog outside to eliminate pick a spot and wait there until your dog eliminates. Timing is important, so immediately after eliminating reward the dog with praise and a treat.
Dogs with excitement and submissive urination should be completely ignored when they are likely to urinate. Dogs often outgrow these behaviors as they reach adulthood, but may need specific desensitization and counter-conditioning protocols to change their emotional response to triggers for the behavior.

This is not an exhaustive explanation of treatment for all of the causes for urine marking and inappropriate elimination, but it’s a good start. Stay tuned to future blogs for an explanation of other causes or email us if there is a specific cause you would like discussed in more detail in a future blog.

Meredith Stepita, DVM, DACVB (Veterinary Behaviorist)