Vol. 7 No. 1 (2021)
Case Report

Separation-related disorder management through the COVID-19 pandemic: A case report

Stephane Bleuer-Elsner
Private practice

Published 2021-04-10


  • dog,
  • separation related disorders,
  • COVID-19,
  • separation anxiety,
  • fluoxetine,
  • Gabapentin,
  • Trazodone
  • ...More


The closure related to the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the management of the separation-related disorder in a dog. Eight weeks before the first COVID-19 pandemic closure, the patient, an 8-year-old female neutered crossbreed dog weighing 6 kg, was presented for nonstop barking when separated from her owners, which happened to be 8 hours a day, 5 days each week. Before the first consultation, 4 years of training based on desensitization without medication helped the owners to cope with the dog but never lowered the barking beyond two hours a day, which remains way too high to provide a correct quality of life to this dog.  The patient welfare was at stake, and the neighborhood complains was growing. The patient was prescribed fluoxetine at 20 mg (3.3 mg/kg) PO q24 h. and trazodone PRN before separation at 25 mg (4.2 mg/kg) PO. A behavioral modification based on extinction and calm reinforcement was prescribed. Eight weeks after the treatment onset, the dog improved significantly up to 15 minutes of daily barking just before the first COVID-19 pandemic closure. During all the successive closures (i.e., one year), the dog was never left alone. When the closures ended, the barking relapsed up to 1 to 2 hours daily, straight at the first separation event, even though the fluoxetine had never been interrupted. Thus, gabapentin was prescribed PRN before separation at 100 mg (16.6 mg/kg) in place of trazodone that triggered excitation in the patient when it was tried. The behavioral plan was improved with additional conditioning before separation. The dog improved quickly to a short tolerable time of barking (i.e., 5 to 10 minutes). This outcome remains stable at the time where the paper is written i.e., 3 months after the end of the closure. This patient’s case emphasizes two important topics in the treatment of separation-related disorder: firstly, medication is needed for most cases to lower the level of emotional reaction, and secondly, an interruption in the exposition to the fearful context may have rebound effects when the context will be encountered again. The long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic remain unknown on both human and dog welfare. More extensive studies should be conducted to measure its impact on the separation-related disorders in dogs.