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Separation Anxiety in Cats

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shy black and white cat stares from the back of a kennel

Do cats have separation anxiety? This is a fairly common question among cat parents. Though separation anxiety in dogs is often discussed, the conversation does not always focus on our feline friends. Cats are typically viewed as independent, so people often assume that they won’t mind being left alone, but the truth is, it’s not unusual for cats to experience separation anxiety.

How Do You Know if Your Cat Has Separation Anxiety?

If you suspect that your cat has separation anxiety, it can be helpful to keep an eye out for certain behaviors. There can be many signs of separation anxiety in cats, including increased vocalization like meowing or crying, either when you leave or as you are getting ready to go. You may also notice your cat refusing to use their litter box. Other behaviors related to anxiety involve excessive grooming, destructive habits, extreme attachment, and attention-seeking behaviors whenever you are around.

Many cats will display these signs whenever you are not home. While it can be easy to tell when they are partaking in destructive behaviors (since you’ll find the remnants when you return), other signs such as increased vocality are obviously more difficult to pinpoint since you’re not home. To help with this, try setting up a camera (possibly one with audio) whenever you will be leaving your cat alone at home.

Another way to tell if your cat is experiencing separation anxiety is to watch their behavior as you prepare to leave—whether you are packing a suitcase or just grabbing your car keys. Take note if they begin acting differently whenever you go through the motions of departing the house. Our feline friends are incredibly smart and can pick up on our behaviors and habits. Just from grabbing your wallet or putting on your shoes, your cat can know that that means you will be gone for an extended time.

Cat Separation Anxiety Signs: Indication of Something More?

Cat separation anxiety symptoms can occasionally overlap with other health-related issues. For example, your cat refusing to use their litter box can indicate that they are experiencing separation anxiety, but this is also a common symptom of your cat having a urinary tract infection.

Keep a close watch on your pal’s symptoms, including their behaviors and mood. If possible, try taking a video when they display habits such as excessive meowing or pacing. This footage can be helpful for your veterinarian to understand how your best pal is feeling. Not only could this help rule out other underlying health issues, but it could assist in discovering the root of the problem.

Learn more about common cat behavior problems and how to solve them. Besides problematic behaviors, your feline friend may also just have some weird habits—some of which are quite entertaining.

Causes of Cat Separation Anxiety

With separation anxiety in felines, there can be many causes. For instance, if your cat is the only pet in the household. Our feline friends can benefit from having another animal companion around. They can help keep each other company and provide entertainment for one another while you are away.

That said, if your cat is already experiencing anxiety, adding another pet to the mix can accidentally make things worse, even though you have good intentions. Ideally, if you plan on having multiple pets in the home, it can be easier to adopt them close to one another, or you can inquire about any bonded pairs your local humane society may have.

Another major cause for anxiety, or something that can cause current anxiety to increase, is a change in routine. Examples can include,

  • Moving to a new home
  • Bringing home a baby
  • Switching from working at home to working in the office
  • Being on vacation

For most cats, their daily routine is something they can count on—it’s predictable and provides a level of comfort.

There are many cats that will experience separation anxiety if they are left alone for too long in an unstimulating environment. For instance, though your pal may be okay for a few hours, being alone for an entire eight-hour workday could be too long. Plus, depending on your cat’s individual needs, they can get bored and lonely by not having any perching spots or a variety of toys available.

tabby kitten being held by a woman with her hair in a bun

How To Help Cats With Separation Anxiety

After learning that your feline friend has separation anxiety, one of your first questions as a concerned pet parent is most likely, “How do I treat my cat’s separation anxiety?”

Learning how to deal with separation anxiety in cats can be a process of trial and error. Here are five ways to help reduce your cat’s anxiety.

  1. Practice with short absences
    If your normal schedule involves you leaving for work for eight or more hours every day, your cat may start assuming that every time you go, it will be for an extended time. A way to help your cat become more comfortable with your absence is to practice with short trips.

    You can begin with brief absences at first—just five or ten minutes. If you have other members in your household, encourage everyone to practice together. For this, you can take a quick stroll around your neighborhood. Returning quickly can reassure your cat.

    Try increasing your time little by little once you believe your cat has adjusted to these shorter departures.
  2. Work on leaving cues
    Before leaving your home, you most likely follow the same few habits every time. Performing actions such as putting on your shoes, grabbing your keys and wallet, or putting things in your bag. Your cat will pick up on these habits and learn to associate them with you leaving. For many pets, their anxiety can begin increasing before you have even left.

    To help limit your pal’s separation anxiety, dissociating these habits from your leaving can be helpful. For instance, put your shoes on, but then don’t leave the house. Pack your bag and grab your keys, then put them back down and continue on as normal. You can also try grabbing your purse or wallet, walking out the door, and then instantly coming back inside and staying.
  3. Create a calm environment
    Taking a few extra steps to create a calm environment for your cat while you are away may help ease their anxiety. Of course, each cat’s needs are different, so you may want to try out a few options until you see which helps your cat the most.

    You can try leaving music playing or a nature documentary on the television. Try setting up a cat-safe area where your cat knows they can rest. This area can include their litter box, food, water, and a bed.

    If your cat is a fan of sunbathing and birdwatching, you can set up their cat tower next to a window with open blinds.
  4. Provide enrichment
    Creating comfy spots by some windows can help provide your pal with some entertainment, but there are many other ways to create enrichment opportunities. It can be helpful to leave more toys around your home or hide treats for your cat to find throughout the day. Some cat parents find that providing a toy with catnip can also help ease their pet’s anxiety.

    Puzzle feeders or puzzle toys can additionally be a fantastic option. These interactive items can keep your cat busy for quite some time, plus they get some food as a reward for all their hard work. After exercising their mind and eating a nice snack, they may be more likely to relax and even take a nap.
  5. Meet with your veterinarian
    After trying these other methods, if you don’t believe they are helping, it may be time to schedule another visit with your veterinarian. After receiving their professional opinion, it may be decided that prescribing anti-anxiety medications for your feline friend is the best route. Some of these medications only need to be given right before you leave.

    Your veterinarian may even recommend different behavior therapies that you might not have yet tried, including meeting with a behavioral therapist.

Does your dog have separation anxiety? Learn more about the signs, causes, and treatment options for your canine friend.

Your cat’s mental health is just as important as their physical health. So whether you think your cat is experiencing anxiety, depression, or compulsive behaviors, never hesitate to be your cat’s advocate and get them the help they need.

As a bonus tip, you can always hire a cat sitter or ask a close acquaintance to stop by and check on your best pal whenever you will be away from home for an extended time.

Though no cat parent wants their cat to experience separation anxiety, the good news is that many treatment options are available. In some instances, all it takes is a little bit of time and patience for your pal to become comfortable with their new situation.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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