Separation anxiety in cats can be a difficult scenario for a cat owner to deal with. While cats do not experience separation anxiety to the same extent as dogs, they do experience it. When cats are separated from their owners for an extended period of time, they may feel separation anxiety. Studies have shown that changes in habits that require cats to spend more time alone can lead to separation anxiety.
What Is Cat Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is a dislike of loneliness that is common in pet behaviour. Cat separation anxiety can be defined as a stress response in cats that is seen when the animal is separated from a person or another animal to which it is strongly attached.
What Causes Cat Separation Anxiety
Although the actual cause of cat separation anxiety is unknown, it is likely to be a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Separation anxiety can affect any cat, but some breeds are more susceptible than others. The following are some of the factors that can cause cat separation anxiety:
- Early Weaning: Kittens that have been separated from their siblings and mother very early are more likely to develop the condition. Kittens should be kept with their families until they reach the age of eight weeks. Also, orphaned kittens can develop this condition. Lack of socialising is another common cause of separation anxiety in cats. The kitten should be socialised between the ages of three and nine weeks.
- Genetics: Genetics may play a major role in cat separation anxiety. Burmese and Siamese cats seem to be more susceptible to developing this condition. When it comes to genetics, there is nothing you can do to change the genes, but you can help by providing enough exercise and mental stimulation for your cats.
- Change or Lack of Stimuli: Boredom or a lack of playtime might cause cats to become too devoted to their owners. Major changes, such as the death of another pet or a family member, a vacation, a move, the birth of a new baby, or a shift in its owner’s work schedule, are all potential triggers. Keep in mind that cats are excellent at reading and picking up on our moods. The more anxious you are, the more likely your cat will get anxious, particularly when you prepare to leave the house.
- Health Problems: Before you diagnose your cat and decide whether to treat cat anxiety, consider the actual health issues. Your veterinarian will know what to check for based on the symptoms. They may test for urinary tract infections, intestinal disorders, hyperthyroidism, skin problems, parasites and allergies.
Signs of Cat Separation Anxiety
When you are raising a kitten, you are likely to encounter some behavioural problems that make you uncomfortable. Separation anxiety can be one of these problems. Some cats are perfectly okay to be left alone with their own toys, while others may display one or more of the following signs of separation anxiety:
- Refusing to Use the Litter Box: Cats are spotless creatures and most of them learn to use a litter box from an early age. If they are sick or for some reason they cannot use the litter box, they may do their business outside the box, but this is very rare. If you come home after going out and see your cat urinating outside the litter box, this may be a sign that the cat is anxious about your absence.
- Pre-Departure Anxiety: Cats are very intuitive and can pick up patterns of behaviour. For instance, your cat may notice that you wake up in the morning, feed him, and then leave for the day. Watch out for signs of anxious behaviour that may happen before you leave home. These signs may vary, from unnecessary meowing to inappropriate urinating, but if it occurs frequently shortly before you leave the house, it is most likely a sign of separation anxiety. The cat may welcome you loudly or make unnecessary noise when it thinks you are getting ready to leave. The noise may also happen when you are not around. This is especially obvious if it is usually quiet. In serious cases, your cat may still feel separation anxiety even when you are home as it expects you to go out again.
- Overexcited When You Come Home: Your cat will know when you come home. It is normal for a cat to come to examine when the door opens and someone enters. If you have a close relationship with your cat, it’s also normal for it to respond positively to your return. But if its excitement increases, it refuses to leave you alone and shows other signs, your feline pal may be suffering from separation anxiety.
- Clinginess: Cat separation anxiety can occur at any time of day and isn’t limited to just before or after you leave the house. If your cat is suffering from separation anxiety, it may become very clingy and refuse to leave your side. They think that by clinging to you, they will be able to know when you are leaving and try to stop you from leaving.
- Change in Eating Habits: Most cats have a feeding routine and a certain way of eating. Some eat fast, while others eat slowly. If your cat’s eating habits change, it’s time to be concerned. And if it stops eating, especially when you are out, or if it eats more than usual, it could be a sign of separation anxiety.
- Destructive Behavior: This is another behavioural issue that is frequently linked to separation anxiety. Chewing and scratching on things such as furniture and even walls is a common occurrence. This happens most often when you are out of the house, but it can also become a permanent issue when you are at home.
- Attempting to Escape: Your cat sees that you leave the house and gets anxious because you are not with it. A possible and understandable reaction to this is to try to follow you or go out with you. It may try to escape before you close the door or find another way out after you have left. It is advisable to microchip your cat just in case the cat goes missing.
- Extreme Grooming: Cats groom themselves for a variety of reasons, one of which is to relieve anxiety and stress. While it is normal for cats to groom regularly and for long periods of time, you should look for a change in their routines. Excessive grooming in cats can be a sign of separation anxiety.
What Can I Do to Help My Cat Cope with Separation Anxiety
To help your cat cope with separation anxiety, make sure you provide it with a safe environment, lots of love and plenty of playtimes. It is always a good idea to consult your veterinarian for additional advice. Low self-confidence and a high dependency on others are the root causes of separation anxiety in cats. The following are some other ways you can help your cat cope with separation anxiety:
- Consult Your Veterinarian: Talk with your veterinarian, especially if your cat is grooming excessively, urinating outside of the box, vomiting, excessive meowing or losing appetite. These habits could be caused by medical conditions, which should be ruled out first to ensure your pet is in good health. In some circumstances, cats with serious separation anxiety may benefit from prescriptions that include behaviour management strategies.
- Remove All Indications of Your Departure: Cats can detect signs that indicate your departure, such as putting on your shoes or picking up your keys. Remove those signs by doing them without leaving home. Pick up your keys and immediately return them back. Wear your shoes on but stay inside. Start the car engine and then switch it off again. Walk out the door and come back inside. You can also leave your bags outside between trips to reduce the chance of your cat relating them to your departure.
- Maintain a Low-key Approach to Your Departures and Arrivals: When you are getting ready to go, don’t give your cat a long, emotional goodbye; instead, give a brief, non-emotional nod of your leaving. When you return, meet your cat only after it has stopped all attention-seeking behaviours (such as meowing and pawing), and pay attention to it only when it is calm, lying down or sitting on a perching spot.
- Give Your Cat a Challenge: Before you leave the house, give your cat a challenge like a tough food puzzle. This allows it to relate your departure to something it appreciates. You can use different types of food puzzles, ranging from those packed with kibble or freeze-dried treats to those with wet canned cat food. Also, create a scavenger hunt for your cat by hiding little pieces of food around the house, like on perches and cat trees. And if you will be gone for a long time, ask your cat’s caregiver to alternate puzzles and hide treats at least once or twice a day.
- Provide Your Cat With Different Kinds of Toys: You need to keep your feline pal busy with different kinds of toys, such as robotic cat toys, teasers and balls. Catnip-filled toys may have the extra benefit of making your cat relax.
Treatment for Separation Anxiety in Cats
Your veterinarian will recommend treatment once your cat has been diagnosed with separation anxiety. Treatment for cat separation anxiety may include medication and behavioural modification.
Most veterinarians will begin working with your pet on behaviour modification if the symptoms are not too severe. Behaviour modification is a treatment method for replacing a cat’s undesirable behaviours with more desirable ones. Ignore any attention-seeking behaviours and pay attention to your cat when it is calm and relaxed. When your cat stops meowing for attention, you can praise it and toss a small treat to it. The goal of cat behaviour modification is to reduce stress and increase stimulation.
It is also a good idea to hire a professional feline behaviourist to come to your home and assess your cat. They can provide you with a customised and specific plan for your furry friend.
Allow your veterinarian to assess whether medication is required to relieve the symptoms. Never administer medication without first consulting a veterinarian, and always administer the approved dosage. Some medications are toxic to cats, and each cat is different, therefore you may end up doing more harm than good.
If the separation anxiety is caused by genetic factors, your veterinarian is likely to prescribe medication. And if the behaviour modification is not working or the symptoms are too severe, he may also resort to this method.
Medications such as lorazepam, diazepam and alprazolam are used to treat depression in cats, as this condition often occurs together with separation anxiety. Leave the decision to your veterinarian, and follow their instructions. Don’t experiment on your own because all medications might have mild to severe negative effects.
How to Prevent Separation Anxiety in Cats or Kittens
It is not difficult to prevent separation anxiety in cats or kittens. There are a variety of things you can do to keep your cats from developing this behavioural problem, such as:
- Source Your Kitten from a Happy Home: Get your cat or kitten from a happy home where you can be sure they have been well socialised. They should never be re-homed before nine weeks of age. It is not advisable to get a kitten younger than this age.
- Prepare a “Safe Place” for Your Cat: Ensure your cat has a “safe place” where it knows it can spend some time alone without disruption, such as a cat tree, cardboard boxes or cat tunnel. Most cats prefer a safe space that is large enough to only fit themselves and has at least two sides so that they are able to exit the place when they feel threatened.
- Provide Your Cat with a Variety of Fun Activities: Cats love to play and you can encourage them by providing engaging toys like laser pointers, pole toys and mice. Scratching posts and cat trees are excellent additions to any home with a cat. They give your cats a chance to display natural cat behaviours.
- Engaging Your Cat’s Brain: Cats are intelligent creatures who thrive on new challenges. You can stimulate their brains by giving them their meal in a feeder puzzle or by hiding treats around the house for them to find.
- Avoid Too Much Disruption to Your Cat’s Routine: As mentioned earlier, changes in routine or environment can stress a cat and cause separation anxiety. Thus, you should keep changes to a minimum. If a change is unavoidable, such as moving house or having a newborn baby, you can help your cat adjust by slowly introducing the new thing to your furry friend.
- Try Cat Calming Products: Certain cat calming products are also available in different forms, but these should not be relied upon as the only solution. They can be used in the form of a spray and diffuser, which release pheromones that are designed to calm animals, and this mimics the natural cat pheromones. It can help calm your cats, but you should also try to identify the root cause of your cat’s anxiety to discover the best long-term solution.
Conclusion: Cat Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety in cats can occur for a variety of reasons. We hope this article has helped you understand how to detect and treat cat separation anxiety. If your cat is very anxious, always seek a professional’s opinion. Take your cat or kitten to the vet to rule out underlying causes so that they can recommend proper treatments.