Separation Anxiety in Cats

Feline Seperation AnxietyDespite their widespread reputation for being independent animals, some cats are very needy with their humans and can actually suffer from separation anxiety.

Causes

There is no single cause for the development of separation anxiety in cats. Some cats are more predisposed to separation anxiety than others. Certain life events such as a cat being orphaned, separated from its mom too early, or experiencing a traumatizing life event such as abuse might make certain cats more likely to develop anxiety. Some purebred cat breeds that are very interactive with their pet parents, such as the Siamese, seem to be more prone to separation anxiety as well.

Symptoms

A cat who is experiencing separation anxiety may exhibit some of the behaviors or symptoms below:

  • Inappropriate urination and defecation within the home, especially on items in the home associated with the pet parent such as the bed or clothes. This is thought to be a way for your cat to mix his scent with yours and not an act of spite. Inappropriate elimination patterns in cats can be the sign of other medical or behavioral problems so don’t jump to a diagnosis prematurely from this symptom alone.
  • Increased vocalization when separated from their pet parents can be a literal cry for attention.
  • Signs of illness or sickness in your absence can range from vomiting to disinterest in eating and drinking or even eating very quickly.
  • Excessive grooming to the point of causing bald spots or irritation can be an indicator of stress and anxiety.
  • Withdrawal and retreating to isolated areas of your home is another common symptom. If your cat sitter never sees your cat, this may be an indication the cat is stressed.
  • Destructive behavior in the home by clawing, chewing, and knocking down things in the house is less common in cats with separation anxiety than dogs but it still possible.

Treatment

The first step to treating separation anxiety is to have your veterinarian make an accurate diagnosis and rule out other conditions. Together you can develop a treatment plan that addresses both behavioral and medical needs.

Enriching the cat’s home environment is often a good first step. An engaged and stimulated cat is less likely to be bored and develop anxiety. Consider purchasing some new toys and rotate old toys out regularly. For cats that enjoy catnip, this is also something to keep on hand. Puzzle toys that you can fill with treats are favorites with cats as well as dogs. Cats love to gaze outside, so giving them a window seat can provide them with hours of entertainment. (Try placing a bird feeder outdoors within the cat’s eyesight too.) If the cat will be home alone, consider tuning in to a soothing radio or television program in your absence. The gentle sounds and voices may help soothe your cat.

To make the cat less aware of your departure, try ignoring him for at least 15 minutes before you leave and upon your return. This is a common behavior modification technique used for dogs as well. While you may want to make a big fuss over your cat before departure and after arrival, this worsens the anxiety in your absence.

If behavior modification alone is not effective, your veterinarian may recommend prescription anti-anxiety medications. There are many options available.

Trust Your Gut

No one knows your cat better than you. If you suspect your cat is suffering from separation anxiety or has developed unusual habits, it is best to address them sooner rather than later. Most cats suffering from separation anxiety don’t show the same destructive behaviors or demand the same kind of attention as dogs with this condition but remember: separation anxiety can still be a significant psychological problem for your cat.

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