Cats are typically regarded as independent, self-sufficient, sometimes antisocial creatures. However, cat owners may disagree—especially those with pandemic kitties who have spent the majority of their lives at home with their caregivers!
Every cat has a different personality and history, each with varying levels of attachment to their humans. Some may be completely fine when you leave the house, while others may feel anxious in your absence.
With many of us going back to the office and planning our postponed vacations, it’s a good idea to understand the signs of separation anxiety in cats and your cat’s coping mechanisms.
What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety, as its name implies, is the feeling of anxiety when separated from a loved one.
Feline separation anxiety can vary in severity: some cats may follow their owner from room to room around the house, while others are relatively content until they notice their owner getting ready to leave the house.
Causes of Separation Anxiety
The exact cause of separation anxiety can vary from one cat to another. Some cases are attributed to genetic factors, while others are a result of the environment.
Factors that may contribute to separation anxiety include:
- Being female
- Living indoors
- Being the only pet in the home
- History of abandonment
- Drastic routine changes; growing accustomed to constant company
- Improper socialization
- Boredom, with excess energy turning into stress
- Health issues
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
Many symptoms of separation anxiety in cats are similar to those seen in dogs.
Signs that your cat is experiencing separation anxiety include:
- Urinating and defecating outside of the litter box
- Excessive meowing or vocalizing
- Destructive behavior (scratching, chewing, breaking household items)
- Excessive grooming
- Escape attempts
- Eating too much, or not at all
- Digestive issues
- Sulking or hiding as you prepare to leave
- Clingy behavior; overly excited to see you when you return home
Keep in mind that bad behavior due to separation anxiety is not done with bad intentions; it is a result of stress and panic. Do not punish your cat for her anxiety-induced behavior, as this will only exacerbate the situation.
Additionally, do not keep her confined while you’re gone, even if it will prevent a mess. This can add to the panic and make her even more stressed at the thought of you leaving again.
Dealing with Your Cat’s Separation Anxiety
Because many symptoms of separation anxiety can also be symptoms of other health issues, be sure to talk to your vet to rule out any underlying medical problems.
Once you know that separation anxiety is the culprit, you can begin taking appropriate steps to help your kitty feel secure even if you’re not around.
Provide sufficient stimulation. This could include puzzle feeders, interactive toys, or even several-hour-long videos created specifically for cats. Give her access to a window with mesmerizing views, and cater to her prey drive by providing plenty of objects for chasing, stalking, and pouncing.
Ignore attention-seeking behaviors, and remain calm before you leave and after you return so teach her that you leaving the house is not a big deal. Keep your cat busy as you get ready to leave, and make sure she has plenty to do while you’re gone to distract her from the fact that you’re gone.
Desensitization. If certain clues such as keys, coats, and purses trigger your cat’s anxiety, try taking them out during random times of the day while you’re home. That way, your cat will stop associating those objects with anxiety.
Practice. Start with short absences, and gradually increase the amount of time you’re gone as she gets used to you going into a different room, stepping outside, running quick errands, and eventually leaving for a day or two at a time.
- Medication. In extreme cases, your vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medication to ease your furry friend’s stress. Please note that prescription medications should never be shared with other pets, and you should never exceed the recommended dosage.
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Will Getting Another Cat Help With Separation Anxiety?
An additional option—a decision which should not be taken lightly—is getting another cat. After all, if your kitty has someone to play with while you’re gone, maybe she won’t feel as lonely.
However, there’s no way of knowing how much the cats will like each other, or whether they will get along at all. If you do get another cat, be sure to monitor their behavior around each other for a significant period of time before you leave them home alone.
If you’re thinking about bringing home a furry friend for the first time, consider selecting litter-makes or a bonded pair of adults; these cats are already familiar with each other and may not need as much attention from humans. Otherwise, look for a confident, well-socialized cat—especially if you know that the majority of your days are spent away from home.