All About Separation Anxiety In Cats

by | Jun 9, 2021

Cats have gained a reputation for being aloof and independent. Some people even think they’re anti-social. But cats are social creatures. It’s just that their ways of expressing the behavior are different from dogs.

Cats are capable of developing close attachments to their humans and even with other pets in the household. Cats feel secure and confident around their humans so much so that when they are separated from their owners, they can develop separation anxiety.

Signs of Separation Anxiety in Cats

Like humans, every cat possesses a distinct personality thus each responds to its owner’s absence in different ways. But the general signs of separation anxiety in felines include the following:

  • Excessive vocalization (meowing, crying, moaning) right after the owner has left.
  • Inappropriate elimination — The cat may urinate and/or defecate outside the litter box or on their owner’s bed. A study that involved 136 cats with clinical signs of typical separation anxiety syndrome (SAS) showed that inappropriate defecation is of a significantly higher percentage among spayed females than neutered males in the study. The same study observed 75% of cats that urinated inappropriately did it on the owner’s bed.
  • Excessive grooming (more common among female cats)
  • Destructive behavior (more commonly displayed among male cats)
  • Poor appetite (anxiety affects the cat’s appetite when left home alone)
  • Keep on following their owners around the house (hyper-attachment)
  • Try to find ways to escape
  • Vomiting usually occurs only when the owner is not around
  • Hide under furniture or try to get between their owners and the door when they see their owners getting ready to leave the house. (Pre-departure anxiety)
  • Increased excitement when their owners return home

A questionnaire survey conducted by Machado et al (2020) showed that among the 223 cats in the study, 30 cats met at least one benchmark for separation anxiety. Twenty (20) cats engaged in destructive behavior which was the most common issue that was exhibited. Other separation anxiety-related behaviors that were manifested include excessive vocalization (19 cats), inappropriate urination (18 cats), depression (16 cats), aggression or agitation (11 cats), and 7 cats displaying inappropriate elimination.

Important Predisposing Factors Of Separation Anxiety In Cats

  • Female cats appear to be more predisposed to suffering from separation anxiety compared to male cats.
  • Cats that are strictly confined indoors tend to develop separation anxiety compared to those that are allowed to venture outdoors. This is also true in cats living in homes with only one human caregiver.
  • Cats that became orphans, have been weaned early or raised with a bottle.
  • Being the only pet in the home.
  • A sudden change in the routine of the household. These changes include moving to a new home, a change in the schedule of their humans, or a change in ownership, to name a few.

What You Can Do If Your Cat Has Separation Anxiety

A change in your pet’s behavior should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian. A cat suffering from certain health issues may also exhibit some of the symptoms of separation anxiety. If your cat is given a clean bill of health, you can now address it as a behavioral issue.

Environmental Enrichment

Enriching your cat’s immediate environment can help provide opportunities for physical and mental stimulation. Environmental enrichment also encourages pet cats to engage in natural behaviors. A busy cat will have less time and energy for anything else including dwelling on the anxiety caused by the absence of his human. Here are easy ways to enrich your cat’s indoor environment:

  • Have lots of vertical spaces. Cats like climbing and perching so they will have a good view of everything that’s happening around them. A basking spot by the window is the best location for bird watching and enjoying the warm rays of the sun.
  • Place a scratching post in areas where your cat loves to spend the most time. Scratching is a natural feline behavior. Providing ‘legal’ scratching surfaces for your furball helps satisfy your pet’s urge to scratch.
  • Get your pet cat an assortment of cat-safe toys. Cats can get bored playing with the same toys thus, experts recommend rotating a cat’s toys at least weekly to preserve their novelty.
  • If your cat is reactive to catnip, have several catnip toys for added stimulation.
  • Interactive toys for cats, such as food puzzles, food dispensing toys, or an electronic mouse, can inspire cats to hone their hunting instincts, allowing them to stalk, run, crouch, and pounce on their ‘prey’.
  • Invest in cat furniture such as cat trees and kitty condos. They come in various designs; all geared toward stimulating cats mentally and physically.
  • Leave the radio or television on. The sounds can eliminate the silence and can be comforting.
  • Ask your veterinarian about synthetic pheromones and calming treats that can help cats cope with stress and anxiety by helping create a calm environment.
  • Consider getting another cat so they can keep each other company while you’re not home.

Behavior Modification Program For Separation Anxiety In Cats

The treatment of separation anxiety in cats typically involves a behavior modification program.

Steps should be taken to make your departure less stressful for your cat. Start by ignoring your pet before leaving and upon returning home. If you focus on your cat 100% of the time when you’re around, it can only worsen the problem because your absence removes the attention. And that can be very stressful to a cat that is used to her owner’s undivided attention.

Departures and arrivals should be low-key, without any fanfare at all. Before leaving, offer your cat something that she likes, like a treat-filled toy, so your pet will have something positive associated with your departure. When you return home, interact with your cat only when she has calmed down and is relaxed. If your cat has committed potty accidents or destroyed something when you were out, punishment should be avoided at all costs. Your cat won’t understand why you’re punishing her and that will only be counterproductive. When you’re at home, interact with your cat only when she is calm. Any interaction should be initiated by you. This will teach your kitty that she is more likely to get your attention if she is calm and relaxed. Putting on your coat or taking out your keys even when you’re not leaving can also help desensitize your pet to these ‘departure cues’ so she will become indifferent to them.

Are There Medications For Separation Anxiety In Cats?

Medication may be indicated in cats suffering from extreme cases of separation anxiety. But that is usually the final option for veterinarians. Anxiety medications reduce clinical signs of separation anxiety as well as increase a cat’s responsiveness to behavior modification regimens.

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