Here’s what you should know about separation anxiety syndrome, how it presents in cats and how some behavior modification can help.
Your feline friend means the world to you. They’re there to curl up on your lap when you need a snuggle or join you in a game with their cat toys. You know the cry they make when it’s dinner time and their unique purring when they’re content.
There’s nothing more heartbreaking than a cat with separation anxiety. The excessive vocalization and imploring look in their eyes as you’re putting on your coat and heading for the door is hard to take.
When you kitty shows this behavior, you want to do everything in your power to comfort them and address their worry about being left alone.
What is Separation Anxiety?
Basically, separation anxiety in cats is an emotional overreaction to being separated from their people. You can be forgiven for thinking of cats as quite independent – unlike dogs, right? Actually, this isn’t the case.
Studies have shown that felines, like their canine siblings, are just as able to develop separation anxiety. What’s more, they can also be so attached to another animal that they find it distressing to be separated from them too.
When cats have separation anxiety, they fret over being apart from their owner for periods of time. They may feel so bonded with humans that need to be always be sitting close to them, or on them, and may even follow us from room to room. If their owner goes outside, the cat may hide until the owner returns.
This fear of separation is further expressed in a variety of different behaviors, such as loud vocalization, becoming physically ill, demonstrating destructive behavior or something else. Due to the range of different behaviors, it’s not always easy to diagnose separation anxiety in cats.
What Causes Separation Anxiety?
Some cats are loners and others are more sociable. While some research into cat separation anxiety has been done, the exact reason for this behavior in cats remains unknown. It’s likely that there are one or more factors that contribute to separation anxiety in cats.
For example, the cat’s experience as a kitten may be a factor if they were orphaned or weaned too early. Being the only animal in a home can make a cat hyper-focused on the movements of their pet parent.
It follows, therefore, that cats who live in a dwelling without a lot of humans and are indoor cats will be more prone to experiencing separation anxiety.
There are several other factors that come in to play. One of the most obvious ones may be that your kitty has experienced a change in routine, and this is causing their anxiety.
Plus, you’re statistically more likely to see signs of separation anxiety if your kitty is female. The cause for this is somewhat of a mystery.
Signs Your Cat is Experiencing Separation Anxiety
As mentioned, it’s not always easy to diagnose cat separation anxiety. Other things are sometimes mistaken for signs of separation anxiety. The main thing is to notice any changes in your companion that could be related. Here’s a list of what to watch for:
Is there excessive vocalization coming from Snowball or Sammy? You know how your pet normally communicates with you, so anything out of the ordinary that persists could be a sign of anxiety. This includes loud , moaning, or crying.
Urinating Outside the Litterbox
This is a tough one. No one wants to deal with cleaning up urine or feces outside the litter box! If your kitty is really trying to give you the message that they’re not happy, they may pick a spot outside the litter box that you’ll catch sight of right away – like in your shoes or on a pile of freshly folded laundry.
Another possible sign of cat separation anxiety is excessive self grooming. You’re more apt to see this if you have a female kitty. Taken to extreme, this can be a real concern.
Eating too Fast or Not at All
You know how you cat usually behaves when it comes to eating their food. Therefore, take note of an emerging pattern that’s different. Is your cat wolfing down their food as soon as you put their bowl down? Maybe Jasper or Jujube is leaving their food untouched.
Separation anxiety may mean that your feline friend is too worried to eat when you’re not around. If this continues, it could lead to anorexia.
This can run the gamut from knocking nick-nacks off shelves to happily chewing up your school notes. It’s not just dog owners who have a problem with eaten homework! If your cat is male and they’re stressed about being separated from you, you may see them engage in destructive behavior.
Vomiting can be worrying when you see your cat do this. It could be that they’re coughing up a lot of hairballs or throwing up their food. When you think about it, stress and anxiety can cause stomach upsets for us, so it’s not unexpected in cats.
Trying to Escape
Did you ever feel like running away from home when you were a child and things didn’t go your way? Trying to escape is another sign of cat separation anxiety.
Managing Separation Anxiety in Cats
While cats generally for about 10 to 15 years, it’s not unheard of that they’ll reach 20. This means Fluffy will be a family member for many years and, chances are, your cat may experience at least one spell of separation anxiety.
When there are signs of separation anxiety, before resorting to medication, here are some things to try.
Provide a stimulating environment
Cats love to explore and . When it comes to enriching their environment, there are so many things to have around the house. Climbing structures can be free-standing cat trees, wall shelves, or window perches. These are perfect for your cat to spend hours watching the bird feeder.
Scratching posts are a must if you want to keep your furniture looking good. These can keep your cat busy, especially with a little on them. Beyond that, there many different types of toys, tunnels, puzzle feeders and cat cubbies. If your cat has lots to occupy them when you’re out a few times a day, they’ll be less anxious.
Leave the house quietly
You may be tempted to draw out your departure routine with lots of affection for your cat, but this is exactly the wrong thing to do. It’s best to stay low-key, with no departure clues, closing the door quietly and maybe leaving the radio or TV on low for company. Also, don’t make a big deal of coming home.
Try telling them calmly that you’re leaving with “Bye now. See you later.” These practices will suggest to Snuggums that there’s nothing to be worried about when the two of you are apart.
Use behavior modification
Behavior modification starts with ignoring your kitty’s attention-seeking antics and giving them your time for play sessions when they’re calm. You can try some other maneuvers to teach general coping skills.
One method is to promote relaxation. You may think cats are already pretty chill but, just like their pet parents, they can use reminding of how to lower stress levels. To do this, simply start rewarding your cat when you see them in a relaxed state.
Another technique is counterconditioning. This is encouraging a positive emotional response instead of a negative one. If your cat connects the sound of you picking up your car keys with being separated from you, try jingling your keys, giving them a treat, and then putting your keys away.
If these approaches don’t yield results, the services of a pet sitter or veterinary behaviorist might assist.
When to Talk to Your Vet
Making an appointment with your vet doesn’t have to be your first response. Although, if there’s something serious going on, your kitty may need medication or treatment. Keep track of what specific behavior your cat demonstrates and see if you can link it to a possible cause.
For instance, if you’ve recently moved to a new place and you’re still unpacking, offer your cat a little time to adjust. Make sure you have their pet bed in a cozy spot and have their favorite toys where they can find them.
Maybe you’ve started a new job with longer working hours. Here, as well, let at least a few days go by until they’ve sorted out your new home coming time before you panic about your cat’s reactions.
The other thing to be aware of is what exactly they’re doing. If Mittens is making a royal mess of your magazines, you might be able to put up with a little destruction until they’ve made their point. But, if they’re avoiding their food or vomiting, don’t wait too long to have them checked out at the vet clinic.
Expect the veterinarian to request that you bring in a urine sample to check for a urinary tract infection. This can be hard if they’re going outside the box and you’re trying to catch them in the act. After giving your cat a thorough physical examination, your vet will probably order some blood tests as well to see if any treatment is required.
If separation anxiety really is at the root of what you’re observing, your vet might suggest trying some anti-anxiety medication. Alternatively, you may be advised to get in touch with a veterinary behaviorist like someone you may have seen on cat shows.
How to Prevent Separation Anxiety
Although it may be difficult to avoid your feline experiencing this type of anxiety altogether, there are a few steps you can take to reduce the likelihood. Preventing cat separation anxiety starts with helping your cat to feel as secure and happy as possible in the home you share.
If you have any choice in the matter, try to choose a kitten that seems well-socialized. Make sure that you give your kitty enough of your time and attention – not just when they’re in the cute kitten stage, but throughout your life together.
Remember, it can be easy with the hectic pace of your day to skip your usual routine if your cat isn’t demanding your attention.
When your cat has other animal companions in the dwelling, this can make them less reliant on your company. Just be cautious how you go about this.
If you bring home a sibling pair of kittens it generally works well, as does introducing a kitten to a household with a mature dog. It can be a little tricky introducing a new to the environment when you have one already. There may be fireworks or they could turn out to be fast friends.
Security for a cat means predictable periods of time when their pet parent will be out of the house. It also involves regular mealtimes, a comfortable corner where they can sleep and do a little self grooming, a convenient litter box and places around the house to play with their toys.
Our Final Thoughts
Finally, with a little detective work and some trial an error, you’ll return home to a confident, independent kitty rather than a little feline face that’s been glued nervously to the living room window while you’ve been gone.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do cats get separation anxiety from their owners?
Certainly, the way you act when you’re getting ready to leave them can make them more nervous. However, that’s not the only reason for this affliction.
Do cats miss you when you leave?
If a cat knows your schedule and can predict your absences, they’re not going to miss you as much.
How do you stop separation anxiety in kittens?
Train your kitten from the start to be independent by providing stimulating surroundings with puzzle feeders and toys and ignoring attention-seeking antics.