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Breed & Health Resources

Cat Separation Anxiety

By Dr. Laci Schaible

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Despite their widespread reputation for being independent animals, some cats are very reliant on their humans and can suffer from separation anxiety.

What causes separation anxiety in cats?

There is no single cause for the development of separation anxiety in cats. Some cats are more predisposed to separation anxiety than others, and certain purebred cats that are very interactive with their pet parents, such as the Siamese, seem to be more prone to separation anxiety as well.

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. Fear in cats can lead to lifelong attachment issues.

Signs and Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Cats

Cat separation anxiety symptoms appear in a variety of ways. Reading your cat’s body language can help gauge if they are stressed or anxious. 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 cats to mix their 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. Whether it’s a sign of anxiety or not, increased vocalization is always something to be looked into
  • 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 cat anxiety and stress
  • 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 of Cats with Separation Anxiety

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.

Home Enrichment

Enriching your cat’s home environment is often a good first step. An engaged and stimulated cat is less likely to be bored and develop anxiety.

  • Purchase some new cat toys and rotate old toys out regularly
  • Keep catnip on hand for cats who enjoy
  • Get puzzle toys that you can fill with treats
  • Give cats a window seat to see outside to provide them with hours of entertainment. Place a bird feeder outdoors within the cat’s eyesight too if you can
  • If your cat will be home alone, consider turning on a soothing radio or television program. The gentle sounds and voices may help soothe your cat
  • Set up plenty scratching opportunities for your cat around your house so they won’t turn to your furniture

Divert Your Attention

To make your cat less aware of your departure, ignore them 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.

Medications and Home Remedies to Treat Cat Anxiety

When it comes to medicating your pet, the best way to approach the topic is by visiting your veterinarian’s office, talking through the symptoms at hand, and taking their recommendations.

However, there are many calming products that can be used for both dogs and cats. Some of these products include cat-calming pheromones, anxiety wraps and shirts, and calming music.

Note: In terms of home remedies, essential oils can be extremely toxic to felines as they are much more sensitive to essential oils than most other pets.

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. Remember that separation anxiety can still be a significant psychological, and stressful, problem for your cat.

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